WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate on Tuesday struck down a motion to start debate in the assembly on a high-profile trade bill, a setback for a bid by President Barack Obama’s administration to conclude a Pacific free trade initiative early.
The result of the vote on the bill for the so-called trade promotion authority indicated many lawmakers thought it was premature to even begin debate in earnest in the upper chamber and will affect the fate of an upcoming meeting of chief negotiators for the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership and subsequent ministerial talks.
With a 52-45 vote, the Senate rejected a plan to hold deliberation on the bill that would grant the president authority to sign trade deals including the TPP with only a yes-or-not vote from lawmakers.
The Republicans, who control 54 of the 100 seats in the chamber, needed at least six ballots from Democrats to secure 60 votes to pass the procedural motion to start debate on the bill. But the result suggested Obama’s Democratic camp resisted the proposal.
The TPA bill already cleared relevant committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, majority leader, pledged to seek another chance to start debate on the TPA bill but it is uncertain how soon Senate leaders can secure sufficient votes.
“Other countries are taking a look at us. They’re wondering whether we can deliver. We hear TPP is close to being finalized,” McConnell told the chamber after the vote.
As the United States and 11 other countries are struggling to conclude the TPP talks later this year, negotiation sources said that without the TPA in effect, many countries may be discouraged from proposing concessions for fear that the powerful U.S. legislature could reject them.
While the Republicans are generally in support of free trade, McConnell urged Democratic opponents, who are concerned about the impact of a TPP on domestic jobs, to cooperate to pass the bill.
The 11 other TPP negotiating countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.