On June 23, 2015, the U.S. Senate cleared the procedural hurdle of attaining 60 votes on a motion for cloture to move ahead with a vote on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as “fast-track” legislation. Under “fast-track,” Congress grants the President the authority to sign trade agreements and Congress can only approve or reject these agreements in a straight up-down vote, meaning that it must take the agreement as a complete package and cannot amend the agreement. As noted in a February 5, 2015 letter from the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA), fast-track authority limits Congress’ ability to meaningfully weigh in on an agreement, particularly given the lack of transparency in trade negotiations. Notably, no trade agreement presented to Congress under fast-track legislation has ever been rejected. TPA has been seen as critical in concluding negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a large regional trade agreement that currently has twelve negotiating parties.
Today, the Senate voted 60-37 to proceed with a vote on TPA. While the Senate had passed TPA in an earlier vote in May, that bill packaged fast-track legislation with Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), legislation that reduces the negative impacts of imports on certain sectors in the U.S. On June 12, 2015, the House of Representatives took separate votes on TPA and TAA, voting to pass the TPA portion of the bundled package by a vote of 219-211 but rejecting TAA by 302 to 126. The House then voted to separate the package and passed TPA in a standalone bill on June 18, with the intention of scheduling a vote on TAA at a later date. Because the Senate had packaged TPA and TAA, the TPA went back to the Senate. Although some critics expressed concerns over the separation of the two bills and suggested that TPA could not pass without TAA, the Senate reached its 60 vote threshold to move ahead with the vote which will likely occur later this week.