Today, a procedural vote in the Senate put the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation one step closer to passage. 13 Democrats and 49 Republicans voted to back the legislation, putting the chamber well over the 60 vote threshold to take the next steps toward sending the bill on to the House.

Still, the TPA and its backers aren’t out of the woods yet, and members of Congress still opposed to the deal are ready and waiting with amendments and tweaks that could halt progress on the bill’s passage.

But the path is not clear yet. Amendments could include controversial sanctions on trading partners that manipulate their currencies, a move opposed by the partners.

The White House has said it will veto the bill if lawmakers insist on penalties. It instead prefers a diplomatic approach to dissuade countries from deliberately weakening their currencies to make exports cheaper.

The TPP, which is near completion after more than five years of negotiations, would create a free trade zone covering 40 percent of the world economy. Trading partners have said they want to see fast-track enacted before finalizing the pact, a goal the administration has set for this year.

The bill must also pass the House of Representatives, where an even tougher fight is expected. Some conservatives oppose giving the White House more power, and many of Obama’s Democrats worry about the impact on jobs and the environment.

Obama has campaigned aggressively for fast-track over objections from the left wing of the Democratic Party, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, the influential liberal from Massachusetts.

A lot of you have taken to the comments of my previous posts on TPA to ask, essentially, What’s the rush? Why are we passing another bill that we haven’t read? The problem with the messaging being pumped out on the TPA is that for many, the controversy rests not with the TPA, but with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

The TPP trade deal made waves earlier this year when a WikiLeaks post revealed that the contents of the draft deal were classified. This is the “secret deal” that has the media and some members of Congress up in arms—not the TPA. It is the TPP, not the TPA, that members have to jump through 15 hoops, spin around, and surrender their staff and cell phones to get a look at.

The TPA is different. TPA laws are procedural bills and don’t give the executive any new authority; instead, they’re used to lay out negotiation objectives and oversight requirements for trade deals. TPA laws don’t take away Congressional review.

The TPA currently on deck in the Senate would give the President authority to negotiate trade deals that would then be sent off to Congress for either rejection or approval. Congress would be able to vote up or down on the deal, but would not be permitted to amend anything.

Hence, “fast-track.” Yes or no. You can read the text here.

Treating these two separate pieces of legislation as the same bill is an error, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t criticize how passage of the TPA could affect the TPP and other trade deals. We’ll keep following on the TPA as it makes its way through Congress, and provide breakdowns of the procedural and policy consequences as needed.


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