Today Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked a motion to proceed to debating a "fast-track" bill that would allow President Barack Obama "to negotiate new trade deals without amendments from Congress." Obama wants the authority so that he can negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which most Congressional Democrats oppose. The motion to proceed to debating the Trade Promotion Authority bill gained just 52 votes in favor (roll call), well short of the 60 needed for cloture. All of the Senate Republicans support the fast-track bill, including Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.
I enclose below statements from Grassley and Ernst on the trade issue and today's failed vote. Grassley called on Obama to "put the bully pulpit of the presidency" behind expanding trade. Perhaps he is not aware that within the last week, the president has used White House meetings, phone calls from Vice President Joe Biden, a high-profile speech, and at least one media interview to bring his fellow Democrats on board with his trade agenda. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Senator Elizabeth Warren have been leading the opposition to fast-track trade authority. After today's vote, Obama met with ten Senate Democrats generally considered to be for expanded trade. Most of them would need to join Republicans to get to the 60 votes needed to proceed to debate or end debate on Senate bills.
Statement released by Senator Chuck Grassley, May 12:
Grassley: Trade Promotion Authority Vote is Disappointing
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today made the following comment on the Senate's vote against turning to debate on legislation to restore Trade Promotion Authority. Grassley is a senior member and former chairman of the Finance Committee, which oversees trade.
"It's disappointing for senators to refuse to allow a trade bill to come up for debate, especially those who voted for the bill in committee just a few weeks ago. The current Senate majority leader is working to bring the Senate back to regular order from the previous leadership, including the ability to offer amendments and hold debate, so the concerns that senators might not get to offer amendments ring a little hollow. Also, as I've said before, the President needs to get involved if he wants to see trade expansion happen. If trade really is a top priority, he ought to put the bully pulpit of the presidency behind getting it done. In the meantime, the situation is frustrating to the agricultural producers, manufacturers, services providers and everybody else who sees the potential for U.S. economic growth in trade expansion."
Statement released by Senator Joni Ernst, May 12 (emphasis in original):
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) released the following statement in support of the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, also known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which identifies congressional trade policy priorities, establishes new notification, consultation and transparency requirements for the Administration, provides for expedited congressional consideration of trade agreements in order to ensure our trading partners put their best offers on the table, and ultimately strengthens Congress' voice on a final vote of approval on any negotiated trade agreement.
"Trade plays an important role in Iowa's economy, and I'm disappointed that some in Congress are blocking bipartisan legislation to move forward on a trade agenda," said Senator Ernst. "Iowa stands to directly benefit by opening up international trade that would boost our agricultural exports, provide new market opportunities and reduce trade barriers for our manufacturers and create more jobs here in the U.S. Importantly, passage of TPA would help to ensure greater transparency so that Iowans are better informed about U.S. trade negotiations and ensure we get the best deals possible."
In April, the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 passed the Senate Finance Committee by a vote of 20 to 6. The legislation grants TPA reauthorization until July 2018 after most recently expiring in 2007.