Senate Democrats derailed one of President Obama’s major second-term priorities Tuesday, voting to hold up consideration of “fast track” trade authority unless related measures are guaranteed to proceed alongside it, the Washington Post reports.
Sixty votes were needed to begin formal debate of measures that would pave the way for approval of a complex Pacific trade accord and provide relief to unemployed workers affected by trade deals. The vote was 52-45, with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the only Democrat voting aye.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had said last week she would vote for trade promotion authority only if it was accompanied by other bills providing income support and retraining funds for workers displaced by international trade; more power to enforce trade agreements and punish violations; and a trade-preferences package for developing nations in Africa.
“Whether or not Congress should grant the president fast-track trade authority is important, but I believe the debate shouldn’t occur in isolation from these related issues,” she said at the time. “If this larger package of bills comes before the Senate, I look forward to its consideration.”
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., spoke against fast-track authority before Tuesday’s vote.
“The last major deal Congress approved cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs, lowered the wages of American workers, and increased income inequality. And we are still dealing with the legacy of NAFTA,” she said, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement that took effect in 1994. (Boxer and Feinstein both voted against NAFTA in late 1993, too.)
“They say timing is everything in life. Well, if that’s true, the timing of this free-trade agreement could not be worse for the middle-class families who we are supposed to be fighting for,” Boxer said. “We should immediately put this legislation aside and take up legislation that will help the middle class.”
But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, issued a statement after the Senate vote saying “free and open trade means a stronger America with more jobs and opportunity.
“This is something that both Republicans and Democrats support, including the President,” McCarthy said. “History has shown that in times of divided government, positive changes can be made on behalf of the American people. Unfortunately, it is the President’s own party stopping progress. The decision by Senate Democrats to block this bipartisan bill from moving forward is disappointing and a step backwards for our already beleaguered economic recovery. The House will continue to work towards passage of free and open trade.”