The Senate sent President Barack Obama legislation granting fast-track trade-negotiation authority, a hard-fought victory intended to aid completion of an agreement with Pacific nations that is a top second-term priority.
The 60-38 vote Wednesday follows passage last week by the House, ending a six-month legislative battle that saw the president working closely with Republicans to outmaneuver members of his own Democratic Party who opposed the bill.
“Republicans were glad to accept President Obama’s support in advancing a principle we’ve long believed in -- that we ought to show our support for American workers by knocking down unfair foreign trade barriers that discriminate against products stamped ‘Made in the USA,’” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement after the vote.
The bill, H.R. 2146, known as trade-promotion authority, would let Obama submit agreements to Congress for an expedited, up-or-down vote without amendments. His administration hopes to complete a 12-country trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership this year, a major component in rebalancing U.S. foreign policy toward Asia.
Thirteen Democrats voted with 47 Republicans for the fast-track bill. Five Republicans -- including presidential candidates Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky -- voted against it along with 33 Democrats.
Following the completion of negotiating authority, the Senate passed by voice vote a bill, H.R. 1295, to extend a federal program to assist workers who lose their jobs because of trade agreements. The House is likely to pass it Thursday.
Democrats have long supported the worker-aid program, and Republican leaders had combined it with the fast-track proposal to gain their support. After House Democrats staged a revolt and defeated the worker-assistance plan as a means to block fast-track, Republican leaders split the proposals into separate bills.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat who led the rebellion, reversed her position Wednesday and said she would support the worker-assistance plan. Backing it will “open the door” to a full debate on a Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, she said in a letter to fellow House Democrats.
Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on trade issues in the Senate and a longtime critic of the worker-aid bill, had said Tuesday that to gain passage of the measure, “I’ll vote for it myself if I have to.”
The rare alliance between the White House and Republicans on trade emerged after the 2014 election, when Republicans took control of the Senate and McConnell became majority leader. A national business lobbying campaign geared up when it became clear Obama was making trade a top priority.
Tom Linebarger, chief executive of Cummins Inc., a Columbus, Indiana, manufacturer of diesel engines, praised the vote on the fast-track measure as beneficial for companies and employees alike.
“The Senate has voted to help complete strong trade agreements that open new markets for U.S. businesses, farmers and workers to compete in the global marketplace, support well-paying American jobs and deliver much-needed economic growth,” Linebarger, who led the Business Roundtable’s efforts on fast track, said in a statement.
Hatch complimented Obama for staying engaged to secure Democratic backing in the Senate.
‘Work it Hard’
“In this case, he really did work it hard,” Hatch said. “Without him I’m not sure we would have gotten this result.”
Fellow Democrats bitterly fought Obama, arguing that the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement cost thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs. Organized labor formed the backbone of the opposition.
“It’s clear that our trade policy creates winners and losers,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who has led opposition to trade-negotiating authority. “Trade agreements do not create winners everywhere. People in my state are losing jobs from these trade agreements.”