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Legislation to Provide Fast Track Trade Authority introduced

Legislation to Provide Fast Track Trade Authority for President Obama Finally Introduced, But Can It Pass?

Considerable House Opposition on Day One, Tight Calendar in Election Year

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Legislation introduced today by U.S. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), which would revive the controversial Fast Track trade authority, faces long odds for approval in the 113th Congress, Public Citizen said today.

Both Democratic and Republican presidents have struggled to persuade the U.S. Congress to delegate its constitutional trade authority via the Nixon-era Fast Track scheme. Fast Track has been in effect for only five years (2002-2007) of the 18 years since passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the agreement that created the World Trade Organization (WTO).

With a large bloc of Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives already having announced opposition to the old Fast Track process at the heart of Camp-Baucus bill, the prospects are limited for the Obama administration to secure passage in the first half of 2014 before lawmakers’ attention turns to midterm elections. In November 2014, the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate will stand for election.

The first session of the 113th Congress was consumed with negotiations among Ways and Means and Finance Committee leaders that could not produce a consensus bill. The senior Democrat on the House trade committee, Ways and Means Ranking Member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) has announced opposition to the legislation introduced today. He sought changes to the old process to enhance Congress’ role.

“While the Obama administration undoubtedly will tout the introduction of Fast Track legislation to pressure Trans-Pacific Partnership countries to make concessions, the prospects that Fast Track will be enacted are doubtful given the opposition of so many congressional Democrats and Republicans and the limited time before attention turns to the 2014 elections,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Introduction of legislation in the U.S. Congress often results in a dead end. By way of context, in the last Congress, 10,445 bills were introduced, with only 272 – less than 3 percent – becoming law. In the current Congress, only one percent of introduced bills have become law (64 of 5,713 bills).

Fast Track is controversial among Democrats and Republicans because it would empower the president to sign a trade pact before Congress votes on it with a guarantee that the executive branch can write legislation to implement the pact and alter wide swaths of existing U.S. law and obtain both House and Senate votes within 90 days. That legislation is not subject to markup and amendment in committee, all amendments are forbidden during floor votes and a maximum of 20 hours of debate is permitted in the House and Senate.

“Congress’ willingness to support Fast Track has declined markedly because ‘trade’ agreements have increasingly invaded Congress’ domestic policymaking prerogatives,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “In addition, Democratic and Republican presidents alike have consistently ignored the negotiating objectives included in Fast Track, but the way the process is structured, Congress has given away its authority to do anything about it.”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, for which President Obama seeks Fast Track authority, includes chapters on patents, copyright, financial regulation, energy policy, procurement, food safety and more that would constrain the policies on these matters that Congress and state legislatures can maintain or establish.

President George W. Bush spent two years and extraordinary political capital to obtain the 2002-2007 Fast Track grant, which passed a Republican-controlled House by one vote and expired in 2007.

A two-year effort by President Bill Clinton to obtain Fast Track trade authority during his second term in office was voted down on the House floor in 1998 when 171 Democrats were joined by 71 Republicans who bucked then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. Clinton did not have Fast Track for six of his eight years in office, but still implemented more than 130 trade agreements, including granting Most Favored Nation status to China, which led to China’s WTO access.

“It’s rare these days that across the aisle, Congress agrees on anything, so it is notable that a large bipartisan bloc insists on maintaining Congress’ exclusive constitutional authority over trade,” said Wallach.

A letter sent to President Obama in November, 2013 by 151 House Democrats called for creation of a new mechanism for trade agreement negotiations and approval, declaring that “Twentieth Century ‘Fast Track’ is simply not appropriate for 21st Century agreements and must be replaced.”

ENDS

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