Just a few days after introducing legislation that could allow hastier movement of trade deals through Congress, the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday passed the measure out of committee with a 20 to 6 vote.
The long awaited bill, the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, approves Trade Promotion Authority. It will now move to the full Senate.
The TPA limits Congress to only and up or down vote on trade deals, but the bill requires the White House to be fully transparent with what's included in the agreements, and consult with Congress throughout the negotiation process.
If an administration does not abide by the requirements noted in the agreement, TPA may be withdrawn.
Supporters of TPA say it gives potential trading partners certainty that the U.S. Congress will not significantly alter agreed-upon deals, and shows the U.S. is serious about finalizing a trade deal.
The TPA legislation comes as negotiators are working on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation agreement with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the U.S. Together, the countries account for about 40% of global GDP.
Ag groups have been pushing for TPA and the pending trade deals – also including the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the EU – for some time. Groups see the agreements as a way to expand export markets and level the playing field when it comes to some tariff issues.
"Current and future free trade agreements give us the ability to take our beef … to the 96% of the world's population that lives beyond our borders," National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Philip Ellis said following the vote.
National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling also supported the Wednesday evening vote. "American family farmers depend on trade. Congress, we are now depending on you to pass Trade Promotion Authority. Let's remove trade barriers, expand our access to global markets, and ensure farmers get the best possible trade agreements."
According to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, renewal of the TPA – which dates back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's time – has been under consideration since 2007.
"We’ve been talking about this for a long time," he said in his opening statement. "Now it is time to act."
But there are uncertainties. One of the key arguments against TPA is that it limits Congressional power. Hatch said these concerns are covered in the bill's text.
"Under our legislation, any member of Congress who wants access to the negotiating text will get it," Hatch said. "And, at any time during the negotiations, members of Congress will be able to request and receive a briefing from [U.S. Trade Representative] on the status of the negotiations."
The bill did not include the controversial amendment from Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to require the U.S. to include provisions in international trade deals that draw the line on currency manipulation.