May 22, 2015

Senate passes fast track authority on trade deals; Udall, Heinrich vote against

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Capitol Hill Building, Washington DC

Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico were in the minority in voting against what they call a fast-track for trade deals, including a deal with Pacific Rim countries that is being negotiated right now.

Capitol Hill Building, Washington DC

Capitol Hill Building, Washington DC

Republicans overwhelmingly supported the bill. It is a very rare instance where Republicans have sided with Obama on a controversial issue. Obama has publicly clashed with Senators from his own party over the bill.

Heinrich and Udall, both Democrats, had some high profile members of their party on their side. Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. was joined by progressive leaders Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio in voting against the bill.

Brown led the behind-the-scenes effort against TPA, while Warren has been the public face of the opposition in the Senate. In all, 14 Democratic Senators voted for TPA while four Republicans voted against.

If it becomes law, the legislation would give the president broad latitude to negotiate trade deals with minimal congressional input; the legislation would allow Congress to approve or reject the deals but not to amend the deals.

The authority would run for six years, so would apply for not only the rest of Obama’s presidency but also for the first few years of his successor.

Opponents of the bill say it gives too much authority to the president.

Reactions to the vote

Heinrich said in a statement following that vote that he was concerned that the legislation would “allow trade deals to be pushed through without proper congressional oversight or scrutiny.”

Udall also said it would allow the president “to speed up trade agreements” but said it came at the cost of the trade agreements coming “without adequate congressional oversight.”

“Trade deals between nations have a direct impact on New Mexico families — affecting wages, and protections for labor, safety, environment and health for which workers have fought over decades,” Udall said. “I voted no because I cannot support giving up my ability to represent New Mexicans’ interests in wide-ranging trade deals that will change the playing field on everything from worker safety to privacy to the open Internet.”

“TPA makes it difficult to ensure our competitors cannot manipulate their currency value to the detriment of American workers and small businesses, or to guarantee basic workplace protections like fair labor practices, safe work environments, and clean water for American workers,” Heinrich said.

Momentum not stalled

The bill’s passage came just before the Senate went on recess for Memorial Day. The fear was that if the bill could not pass the Senate before the recess, the momentum would be lost and it would be back to the drawing board. Instead, the focus shifts to the other chamber.

The bill now heads to the House, where Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, is supportive. House Minority leader Nancy Pelos, D-Cali., is also in support of the bill.

But both are saying the responsibility to whip the votes for passage is on the other party.

“Like many hard-working New Mexicans, I strongly oppose TPA,” Heinrich said. “You can count on the fact that I won’t give up the right to fight for American workers.”

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