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TPA No Sure Bet Yet

When the Senate voted 62-37 to give President Barack Obama “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority on May 22, it was described as a “major win” for White House by NBC and other news outlets.

But a closer look at how senators voted on controversial amendments hardly makes final passage of TPA look like a sure thing. The House still has to pass the bill, which the Obama Administration, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and most farm groups say is needed to finish negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement larger than Nafta.

The Senate barely defeated a controversial amendment that would have required tougher bargaining by the U.S. over currency manipulation. Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who served as United States Trade Representative, offered the amendment, which both the Senate GOP leadership and the president have said would draw Obama’s veto of the TPA bill.

The amendment failed by a vote of 51 to 48, with 12 Republicans voting for Portman’s amendment. Amendment supporters included Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), a long time critic of China’s currency manipulation who is also a strong supporter of free trade. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is expected to soon announce his run for the GOP presidential nomination, also voted for the Portman amendment. Those supporting the amendment see currency manipulation as a way for competing nations to make their products cheaper than ours and our exports more expensive. Right now, the strong dollar is already having that effect.

Watching last week’s Senate battle over TPA makes prospects for passage of TPA in the House seem tougher, said Chandler Goule, senior vice president of programs for National Farmers Union in Washington, DC.

“I think the president’s got a significant uphill battle right now,” Gould told in a telephone interview.

In the House, Obama faces more opposition from conservative Republicans who mistrust Obama and oppose giving him the authority to submit trade deals to Congress that must be passed on a fast track, with no amendments allowed. And most Democrats oppose TPA and TPP because they fear it will increase the U.S. trade deficit and cost domestic jobs, said Goule, whose farm group is one of the few that opposes both TPA and TPP.

Leadership in the House has already delayed twice a vote on the bill granting Obama TPA. Members of the House are also concerned about currency manipulation and any TPP bill that doesn’t address it, Goule said.

If the House approves an amendment similar to Portman’s in the Senate, that would kill the TPA bill Goule believes.  And, “you wouldn’t get TPP done,” he said. “Japan and Vietnam (two of the 12 Pacific Rim nations conducting the trade negotiations) are the worst currency manipulators in the world.”


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