Senate Democrats Rally Against Obama, Stop Trade Initiative In Its Tracks

Obama is facing resistance on the Hill for one of his highest economic priorities, but it’s not the Republicans this time; for the most part, it’s Democrats. The President’s own party in the Senate is poised to filibuster a bill that would return trade promotion authority back to the White House. Now Republicans and President Obama will have to work together to overcome the hurdle.

Trade promotion authority, commonly known as fast track, forces the Senate to approve foreign economic treaties with an up or down vote. Without fast track, the Senate can try to force in various amendments to the treaty, hamstringing the White House (or more specifically the U.S. Trade Representative) in its ability to negotiate. (The White House can’t make promises in a foreign treaty if the other party thinks the Senate will simply amend away all U.S. concessions.)

For a treaty like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) there’s almost no chance of ratification without trade promotion authority.

For Democrats in the Senate, that’s not such a bad thing.

A group of anti-trade Democrats and a few Republicans have joined forces to bring the fast track bill to a halt this afternoon, according to CNN. The group still seems willing to negotiate, but they are demanding more concessions from the Congressional Republicans.

Namely, they want to make sure there are more protections for U.S. workers, provisions in treaties to prevent child labor, and a customs bill that would contain language to punish currency manipulators, according to Politico.

After Democrats halted the procedural vote, Mitch McConnell expressed his disbelief to reporters.

“What we just saw here is pretty shocking. What we just witnessed here is Democratic senators shutting down debate on the top economic priority of the Democratic president of the United States.”

Still, there is hope for the TPP and trade promotion authority.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who initially rallied the Democrats to block the vote, has come forward with a plan that would include dropping the customs bill from his group’s list of demands.

That’s particularly good news for the White House. Provisions for currency manipulation would likely be impossible to apply to the TPP, which includes Japan as a participant. Likewise, the customs bill would have forced the White House to label China a currency manipulator, potentially starting a trade war.

Reid’s plan and the minority party’s willingness to talk things out might be the White House’s only hope of getting fast track back (the President’s office lost the controversial power in 2007).

Harry Reid explained, “I suggest the way we move forward is to have a program where we have all of these bills discussed at the same time.”

“Everybody should just take a deep breath. I think there’s probably a way we can move forward with this.”

The President has also tried to ease concerns about the future trade agreements, especially the TPP, which a White House official called “the most progressive trade agreement in our history.”

“The President reiterated his view, which he has shared in numerous similar conversations with members over the past several weeks, that passing TPA is an important step toward finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the most progressive trade agreement in our history, which levels the playing field for American workers and puts in place new, high-standards environmental, labor, and human rights protections.”

Still, Democrats have plenty of concerns based on the text leaking from the negotiations. Senate Democrats are unlikely to give in on the trade initiative easily, even if they’re giving authority to Democratic President Obama.

[Image Credit: Getty Images]