White House Pushes for Trade Promotion Authority

The White House is ramping up efforts to build bipartisan support for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), formerly called “fast track” authority, by reaching out to members—particularly Democratic leaders—who have expressed opposition to granting the president the power to negotiate trade pacts. Securing TPA is a key priority of President Barack Obama’s aggressive trade agenda which he hopes to complete before leaving office in two years.

For nearly four decades, TPA have been enacted by Congress to help guide president’s in pursuing trade agreements as a means to further open markets for U.S. exporters and spur economic growth and job creation. TPA authorization was last renewed in 2002, under the Trade Act of 2002, allowing the negotiations of 11 agreements and implementation of eight Free Trade Agreements over the next five years, before it expired in 2007. President Obama called for TPA to be reauthorized in July 2013, and again in his 2015 State of the Union address to help facilitate the negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a trade agreement currently being considered among 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP)—a pact underway between the U.S. and the European Union.

Despite the overall volatility on Capitol Hill, Republican leaders and the president have found common ground in the hopes of passing major trade legislation this year. However, bringing Democrats on board has proven to be an uphill battle for the White House, as some Democrats have been more cautious and have expressed concern about the lack of congressional involvement in the free trade negotiations. Others oppose granting the president TPA authority over concerns with currency manipulation, transparency, and the long-term impacts on U.S. businesses and workers.

Last week, congressional Democrats in both chambers offered legislation addressing one of their major concerns with the trade agreements.  Lawmakers introduced H.R. 1088 and a companion bill in the Senate S. 568, which would extend the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program through 2020. TAA, a federal program managed by the U.S. Department of Labor, provides assistance to workers who lose their jobs or whose work hours and wages are reduced as a result of trade, and aids them in obtaining new employment.

The momentum may start to build for TPA legislation in the coming weeks as the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) are working on a TPA bill that could be introduced in the next few weeks. It will likely be similar to legislation introduced last Congress by former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), which reauthorized TPA for four years, with an option for a three- year extension. The New Democrat Coalition, a 46-member group of House Democrats lead by Chairman Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), support the president’s trade agenda and may serve a pivotal role in garnering enough votes for such as bill to pass the House.