Fast Track trade authorization blocked in U.S. Senate

Screenshot from 2015-01-25 15:31:49The Septuagenarian Ninja Turtle, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, failed to marshal 60 votes in favor of a motion to proceed to the bill to formally begin work on the fast-track portion of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade bill. The final vote was  52-45.

Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake voted to advance the bill. Sen. Tom Carper (Del.) was the only Democrat to vote in favor. (McConnell voted no in order to make the motion for reconsideration to bring the bill back later).

This is a major setback for McConnell and the White House. Nevertheless, the White House was brushing off this defeat even before the vote, according to Roll Call. White House Brushes Off Fast-Track Failure:

The White House is brushing off what is now expected to be the imminent filibuster of President Barack Obama’s fast-track bill on the Senate floor, with Press Secretary Josh Earnest blaming a “procedural SNAFU” for Democrats planning to vote en masse to block it.

The expected vote could deal a devastating blow to Obama’s ambitious trade agenda, and amounts to perhaps the biggest rebuke of this president by his own party.

But Earnest said Tuesday the president will continue to try and push fast-track authority through the Senate even after pro-trade Senate Democrats indicated they wouldn’t back the bill unless several bills — including one on currency enforcement — would move forward.

Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee and a backer of fast-track, tweeted he will vote no unless the bills move forward together.

The White House opposes attaching currency enforcement measures, worrying they could imperil the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement with Asian countries and potentially imperil the independence of the Federal Reserve.

Earnest Monday and today said existing policy has already succeeded in getting China and Japan to begin “to level the playing field” on their currencies, noting China’s currency has appreciated 30 percent against the dollar since 2010.

However, critics of the administration have noted that the administration has repeatedly certified that China and other countries are not manipulating their currency in semi-annual reports on the issue.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered to give Democrats the chance to amend the bill once debate begins, but Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., warned Democrats wanted all four bills in the package and questioned how “robust” the amendment process would be.

Many Democrats want ironclad assurances that the currency and other provisions will become law, not just have a chance to lose on the Senate floor.

The Hill adds, Senate deals stinging defeat to Obama trade agenda:

Fast-track is a top legislative priority for the White House, but it has run into significant Senate opposition that has been led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

It faces even more opposition from Democrats in the House, and the surprise Senate failure will raise doubts about whether the legislation will make its way through Congress.

Labor unions and other left-leaning groups have declared war on the fast-track bill, which they argue has shipped jobs overseas. The Senate is generally a more pro-trade body than the House, and it has been easier to move trade agreements through the upper chamber.

The standoff Tuesday focused on procedure, though there is significant opposition to fast-track itself in the Democratic conference.

Senate Democrats demanded that McConnell combine the fast-track bill with three other pieces of trade legislation, including a customs bill that would address currency manipulation.

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But McConnell has refused to combine those bills with the customs and enforcement act, which includes language cracking down on currency manipulation, and a package of trade preferences for sub-Saharan Africa.

“Until there is a path to get all four bills passed … we will, certainly most of us, have to vote no,” Wyden said.

Wyden was joined by Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Mark Warner (Va.).

The White House downplayed the defeat, with press secretary Josh Earnest describing it as a “procedural snafu.”

Tuesday’s setback means it will be very difficult to pass trade legislation before the Memorial Day recess.

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