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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Very significant; passage lets Hillary have it both ways (she really was for it, but said she wasn't): Fast-Track Trade Bill Clears Key Hurdle in Senate - Vote is pivotal step toward passage of fast-track measure

From The Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—The Senate on Tuesday gave President Barack Obama’s trade agenda a big push forward, in a pivotal vote that clears the highest remaining procedural hurdle to giving the president expanded trade-negotiating power.

The 60-37 vote effectively ends any filibuster that opponents might mount and sets up the fast-track bill to pass the Senate by Wednesday. The House has already passed the measure and Mr. Obama has vowed to sign it into law. The bill will stand as one of the most significant legislative acts of his presidency and a monument to the power of divided government to cut through partisan gridlock.

More Republicans support fast-track than Democrats, but GOP supporters had to rely on the votes of 13 business-friendly Democrats to advance the fast-track legislation, which would give Mr. Obama the power to submit trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments. Five Republicans and the chamber’s two independents voted no.

The success in getting around the Senate’s last procedural hurdle was a victory for the White House, businesses and Republican leaders. It was a crushing blow to labor unions and environmentalists, who helped elect Mr. Obama and view his trade agenda, and the intensity with which he has fought for it, as a betrayal.

“This is a day of celebration in the corporate suites of this country,” Mr. Brown said. “They’ve got another corporate-sponsored trade agreement that will mean more money in some investors’ pockets. It will mean more plant closings in Ohio and Arizona and Delaware and Rhode Island and West Virginia and Maine and all over this country.”

But it also represented a personal victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), who won re-election last year by saying he had the clout to assemble bipartisan majorities.
“This has been a long and rather twisted path to where we are today but it’s a very, very important accomplishment for the country,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor after the vote.

Tuesday’s outcome was made possible by last November’s elections, which gave Republicans control of the Senate for the first time in eight years and meant that both chambers of Congress were in Republican hands for the first time in Mr. Obama’s presidency.

For his part, Mr. Obama put aside his disagreements with Mr. McConnell and instead threw himself into the task of lining up support for the fast-track bill with gusto—so much, in fact, that Mr. McConnell told reporters that after communicating with Mr. Obama and being on the same side of the issue he was practically having an “out-of-body experience.”

The outcome of Tuesday’s vote had been in doubt even as late as Monday night, hinging on whether enough of the 14 pro-trade Senate Democrats who had voted for a fast-track bill last month would do so again. Only one of them, Ben Cardin of Maryland, switched his vote to no, after expressing concerns that the workers assistance bill would be moved separately and later.

A last-minute defection on the Republican side came from Sen. Ted Cruz, who complained that negotiations had involved too much backroom dealing. His switch created more uncertainty about the vote and increased Mr. McConnell’s reliance on Democrats.

To secure Democratic support, Mr. McConnell has pledged to immediately take up legislation to pass bills to renew a program to help workers hurt by international trade, as well as a separate measure to extend trade preference for sub-Saharan African nations. He also said that he would begin the process of reconciling differences with the House over legislation to step up enforcement of trade laws by the end of the week.

The first of those votes is set to occur on Wednesday, a procedural vote on renewing the Trade Adjustment Assistance program and the trade-preferences measure with which it is combined. If the Senate clears a 60-vote procedural hurdle, final passage of the workers-assistance bill would occur by Thursday and the measure would then be sent to the House, where GOP leaders say they want to pass it immediately and have it on the president’s desk by the end of the week.

Even if the GOP leaders live up to their promises to the Democrats, the votes won’t end trade fights in Washington but instead will open up a new front in the battle. If the Senate passes the fast-track bill by Wednesday, as expected, the White House will then have to turn its attention to wrapping up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade accord, and convincing Congress to ratify it.

Because the fast-track bill will expedite passage of trade deals negotiated over the next six years but not guarantee their passage, the next phase of the fight will be even more important than the first round. Some Democrats who voted for fast-track legislation have warned Mr. Obama not to presume that they will also vote for the Pacific deal, the largest in history.

The coming battle will shift away from the process for ratifying trade deals and toward the substance of the pacts themselves. Trade negotiators have been working in secret on the trade accord, and lawmakers are able to study the text only by going into a secure room in which they are banned from taking any notes. The fast-track bill will force the text into the public eye, requiring publication of the agreement 60 days before the president signs the accord. The president would then still have to submit implementation legislation to Congress before the deal is ratified.

The uncertain potential for Congress to ratify a new trade pact speaks to the open wounds left by the fast-track fight, which was brutal even by contemporary Washington standards. Mr. Obama blasted Democrats for distorting the issues, and said that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), a liberal standard-bearer, was “wrong on this.”

The liberal wing of the party gave as good as it got, with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlining a plan to freeze campaign contributions until after the fast-track vote played out. Other liberal groups chased Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) around his state with a blimp and a recreational vehicle to pressure him to back off the fast-track bill that he helped write.

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