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Senate Swats Trade Promotion Authority Legislation

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) may be one step further from advancing now that Senate Democrats have blocked consideration of trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation.

Passing TPA, or fast track, would have meant President Obama could present a trade agreement to Congress to ratify or reject, but not amend. But on Tuesday, the Senate voted 52-45 on the motion to begin debating the bill, eight votes shy of the 60 needed to proceed.

The vote reflects a generous divide between the president and congressional Democrats who think the trade deals will hurt U.S. jobs.

Some Democrats have also said they would only back TPA if Republican leaders allow for other trade measures, including the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Trade Adjustment Assistance, which provides federal aid for workers displaced because of trade agreements and a Customs enforcement bill that includes a measure to act against countries that keep their currencies artificially low to make their exports more attractive, AP reported.

“The senate has historically been a place where our country debates and considers big issues. This is an issue worthy of our consideration, yet today we have voted not to even consider it,” said Sen. majority leader Mitch McConnell. “It doesn’t mean we can’t predetermine outcomes. It doesn’t mean we can even guarantee the successful passage of legislation once we proceed to debate it. We can’t make those kind of guarantees that the other side was saying as a precondition to even considering the president’s number one domestic priority. But blocking the senate from even having a debate of such an important issue is not the answer.”

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The trade bill’s main author, Sen. Orrin Hatch expressed his disappointment in the vote saying the bill’s aim was to advance the U.S. trade agenda and provide jobs for American workers, both of which would have happened if the bill got through both houses of Congress and the president signed it into law, he said.

“To put this nation’s foreign policy, especially in—in the orient, in particular, to put it on hold when we could be building relationships in these countries like never before and at the same time spurring on international trade like never before it’s a matter of great concern to me, Mr. President,” Hatch said.

With TPA, Obama would be able to finalize negotiations on TPP, the pending trade deal between the U.S. and Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, but without it, the agreement’s progress hangs in the balance. Hatch said the move might also ruin the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a deal the U.S. is negotiating with the European Union.

Obama’s supporters have expressed intent to try again to advance TPA legislation and McConnell said Democrats would have a chance to amend it.