Congress passes "fast-track" trade promotion authority: How the Iowans voted

Less than two weeks after an embarrassing defeat for President Barack Obama’s trade agenda, a trade promotion authority bill is headed to the president’s desk. The trade promotion authority legislation, often called “fast-track” or TPA,

will allow the White House to send trade deals to Congress for up-or-down votes. The Senate will not be able to filibuster them, and lawmakers will not have the power to amend them.

The expedited process, which lasts until 2018 and can be extended until 2021, greatly increases Obama’s chances of concluding negotiations on the TPP [12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership], which is a top goal of the president’s.

Follow me after the jump for details on how the Iowans in Congress voted on the latest trade-related bills. Bleeding Heartland covered the Iowans’ legislative maneuvering in late May and early June here. For background and context, I highly recommend David Dayen’s article for The American Prospect magazine, which covers the modern history of trade negotiations and how fast-track emerged some 40 years ago. Dayen also explores “the political transfer of power, away from Congress and into a potent but relatively obscure executive branch office: the United States Trade Representative (USTR).”

I also enclose below some Iowa reaction to the latest Congressional voting on trade. Representative Steve King (IA-04) highlighted one angle I hadn’t heard before, claiming victory because new language allegedly will prevent the president from negotiating provisions on climate change or immigration in trade agreements. UPDATE: Those provisions may not stay in the related bill King is counting on. More on that below.

On June 12, the U.S. House had approved a fast-track bill but rejected companion legislation on trade adjustment assistance. On June 18, House leaders brought up for a vote a separate trade promotion authority bill, with no trade adjustment assistance provisions. House members narrowly approved it by 218 votes to 208 (roll call). GOP leaders needed help from 28 Democrats to get fast-track through, because 50 House Republicans voted against the legislation. Iowa’s representatives split along party lines, with GOP members Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04) supporting trade promotion authority, while Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted against it.

Blum released a statement explaining his June 12 vote for trade promotion authority but did not send out a news release on the June 18 fast-track vote.

I haven’t seen any official statements from Loebsack on the recent trade-related votes. The Republican Party of Iowa attacked Loebsack’s “anti-trade” voting in a press release I’ve enclosed at the end of this post.

Young’s office release this statement about the fast-track vote:


Washington, DC — On Thursday, June 18, Congressman Young voted for the second time in a week in favor of Trade Promotion Authority, joining the entire Iowa Republican congressional delegation once again (Senator Grassley, Senator Ernst, Congressman King and Congressman Blum) to support oversight of the president’s trade agreement.

“I voted for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to ensure accountability, transparency, and lawfulness in any trade agreement coming down the pike from the president. This authority gives Congress a say in the process, so we can review the trade deal and ultimately have an up or down vote in approving or rejecting the agreement. And most importantly, TPA requires the president to make the trade agreement public, so it is transparent and reviewable for Iowans. Regardless of any potential trade agreement, I will be listening to Iowans throughout this process.”

Steve King released a video explaining his vote instead of a standard press release. I transcribed part of his remarks:

I objected to trade promotion authority because it didn’t include–although it had guidelines in there, about 150 different provisions to restrain the president in certain ways with regard to negotiating trade agreements going into the future. I objected [to TPA] because it didn’t restrain him from negotiating climate change and negotiating immigration provisions into our trade agreements going forward. And we were able to get that language put into the customs bill, which has passed the House, and it’s likely that they will appoint a conference committee on that today.

With the House passing trade promotion authority, it’s up to the Senate now to do so. If they get the votes next week to get it passed, my language will be incorporated into the TPA trade promotion authority, and we’ll not see climate change negotiated nor immigration negotiated in any of the trade agreements that would be negotiated under the terms of fast-track or TPA. That’s a big deal. That takes us six years into the future, perhaps–there’s another extension of three years, so it could go nine years into the future. That gives me a big sigh of relief, and it also lets us focus on the important components of trade. I’ve long been one who supports free trade. I’m for free trade, but I’m for smart trade. We need access to their markets if they’re going to have access to ours. This gives us an opportunity to negotiate a much better Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement than what we think is being in the works right now. […]

So this lays a good foundation. No, I don’t trust this president, and that’s been the biggest objection [to TPA] all along. But it’s only for the next year and a half. We’ll have a new president, and we’ll have laid the foundation of trade promotion authority, and we’ll put the constraints on there, so that no president going forward, for the next six to nine years at least, will be able to slip in climate change regulations or immigration provisions [to trade agreements]. So I think we’ve accomplished a lot here today in the House of Representatives.

UPDATE: According to David Dayen, the riders limiting the president’s authority to negotiate on climate change were added to the customs bill to get votes from King and other “far-right” House Republicans, but there is “no guarantee they [will] stay in the customs bill,” which will be finalized in a conference committee. Dayen added, “I don’t see how this conference will come up with anything satisfactory that can get the votes in the House & Senate, in fact.” If the customs bill never passes Congress, King and his allies will have been snowed.

Separating the fast-track legislation from a bill on trade adjustment assistance was a risky maneuver, going against decades of Congressional practice on trade promotion authority bills. The big question mark was whether the U.S. Senate would approve fast-track without simultaneous Congressional action on trade adjustment assistance, traditionally a Democratic priority.

Alexander Bolton reported for The Hill on the deal-making before the June 24 Senate vote on the House-approved fast-track bill:

A group of 14 swing [Senate] Democrats came under heavy pressure from unions to oppose fast-track after it became uncoupled from TAA [trade adjustment assistance]. Labor officials argued that GOP leaders could not be trusted to get the worker assistance package through the House.  

But McConnell and Boehner assured their Democratic partners that all four pieces of Obama’s trade agenda,

including the customs bill favored by Democrats and a package of trade preferences for African nations, would pass.

“The House will consider TAA once it passes the Senate as part of a new trade preferences bill. And we are ready to go to conference on the customs bill,” Boehner pledged in a statement Tuesday ahead of a procedural vote to

advance fast-track to a final vote.

To further entice wavering Democrats to back fast-track, McConnell added to the TAA package the Leveling the Playing Field Act, which empowers U.S. companies to petition the Commerce Department to respond to trade violations.

He also furnished for Democrats a letter signed by a group of Senate Republicans pledging to support TAA.

Those assurances were good enough for most of the Senate Democrats who support the Obama administration’s position on trade. Yesterday the Senate approved the trade promotion authority bill by 60 votes to 38 (roll call). Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both voted yes; they have consistently supported fast-track legislation whenever it has come up for a vote this year.

Ernst’s office sent out the following press release yesterday:

“Trade Promotion Authority is foundational to opening up new free trade opportunities around the world, and I am pleased to see it is one step closer to implementation. As a net exporting state, Iowa stands to directly benefit from increasing our state’s agricultural exports and reducing trade barriers for our manufacturers. TPA is key to strengthening the role of Congress in trade negotiations, fostering greater transparency so that Iowans are better informed about U.S. trade agreements, and encouraging our negotiating partners to put their best deals forward to ensure that the U.S. gets the best deals possible.

“President Obama must now work with Congress to continue moving forward on a robust trade agenda. Opening up more free trade opportunities around the world is vital to Iowa’s future and the health of our national economy. I urge the President to put this trade legislation into action as soon as possible.”

Senator Ernst also emphasized the importance of TPA at a press conference last month.


Last month, more than 70 State of Iowa leaders and job creators sent a letter to the Iowa congressional delegation to underscore the importance of international trade to Iowa’s businesses, workers, and farmers. According to the letter:

In 2014, Iowa exported a record-setting $15.1 billion in manufactured goods and value-added agricultural products.

Nearly 83% of these exports were from small or medium-sized businesses.

Iowa farmers exported $3.58 billion in soybeans, $1.99 billion in pork, $1.71 billion in corn, and $1.04 billion in feed grain.

In addition, according to the Business Roundtable:

Over 448,000 jobs in Iowa – nearly one in every five jobs – depend on international trade.

There are 3,367 Iowa-based companies that exported to nearly 190 countries in 2013.

Our negotiating partners in the TPP and T-TIP agreements purchased $11.3 billion (64%) of Iowa goods exported in 2013. The elimination of tariffs and other trade barriers with those countries would therefore likely result in a direct benefit to Iowa’s economy.

June 24 press release from Grassley’s office:

Grassley Welcomes Final Approval of Trade Promotion Authority

The Senate today gave final approval of legislation reinstating Trade Promotion Authority, the process widely seen as critical to enacting new trade agreements.  The vote clears the way for the President’s consideration.  Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa made the following comment on the vote.

“CNBC just named Iowa the no. 10 state in the country for doing business.  A good place to do business means good jobs.  A big part of the Iowa business climate includes exports.  Many of our jobs are supported by exports, and they’re good-paying as a result.  Trade Promotion Authority is key to finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  This agreement would benefit Iowa and its many export-dependent jobs.  Almost 40 percent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product is from the 12 countries participating in the negotiations.  Several of the participating countries are expected to add billions of people to their middle class in the next several years.  The trade agreement would allow those individuals to buy more products from Iowa and the rest of the United States.  Iowa produces everything from farm commodities to heavy machinery to financial services.  Emerging markets should have access to what Iowans produce, to the benefit of Iowans.”

In his story for The Hill, Bolton noted that senators approved by voice vote on June 24 a motion to send the customs bill to a conference committee and a “a trailer bill that includes trade preferences for African nations” along with trade adjustment assistance language. Although labor unions pushed hard against the fast-track vote, it sounds like they will not lobby House Democrats to oppose that separate bill on trade with African nations and trade adjustment assistance for American workers.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

Republican Party of Iowa press release from June 18:

RELEASE: Rep. Loebsack’s Anti-Trade Vote

DES MOINES – Earlier today Rep. David Loebsack voted against Trade Promotion Authority, an important tool to increase exports and further grow Iowa’s economy.

In voting against TPA, Rep. Loebsack demonstrates that he doesn’t understand the Iowa economy and is out of touch with mainstream Americans who support advancing free and fair trade. He is also at odds with other Iowa Democrats like Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, who both support Trade Promotion Authority.

Last month Iowa leaders, joined by over 70 Iowa businesses, sent a letter to the entire Iowa congressional delegation urging support for TPA. Thankfully five of the six Members of the Iowa delegation answered that call.

Statement from Chairman Jeff Kaufmann: “This common-sense bill has broad bipartisan support nationally and particularly here in Iowa. Congressman Loebsack’s extreme anti-trade views are bad for job creators, workers, farmers, and Iowa. Today I am once again thankful that Iowa has elected five strong, principled Republicans to our federal delegation.”


Op-Ed by Tom Vilsack: Delaying TPA Threatens Rural Economy

By delaying action on Trade Promotion Authority legislation, Congress threatens the future of American agriculture and the rural way of life. Today, our farmers, ranchers and rural communities are more prosperous and successful thanks to strong trade agreements. Last year, American agricultural exports grew to a record $152.5 billion and the past six years represent the strongest in history for U.S. agricultural trade. For many American products, foreign markets now represent more than half of total sales. Trade literally supports American agriculture and the rural communities that depend on farm income.

Mayors Call On Senate Leaders To Adopt Trade Promotion Authority Legislation (Signed by Frank Cownie, mayor of Des Moines)

On behalf of mayors across the country, the US Conference of Mayors (USCM) sent a letter today to Senate leaders McConnell and Reid urging the Senate to adopt Trade Promotion Authority legislation (TPA 2015).

Reuters: Majority of Americans back new trade deals: Reuters/Ipsos poll

A majority of Americans support new trade deals, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Wednesday, even as President Barack Obama struggles to win support for legislation key to sealing a signature Pacific Rim trade agreement.

  • TPA beyond TPP

    So my understanding is that the TPA applies to any treaty negotiated until it expires in 2018. Of course the focus has been on the TPP, but other treaties could also be fast tracked due to this authority. Am I correct?

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