Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, called trade promotion authority “the most important bill we’ll do this year.” Credit Cliff Owen/Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to legislation granting President Obama enhanced power to negotiate major trade agreements with Asia and Europe, sending the president’s biggest end-of-term legislative priority to the White House for his signature.
The vote was 60 to 38.
Senators then approved legislation assisting workers dislocated by international trade accords, attaching it to a popular African trade measure that will go to the House on Thursday for a final vote. House Democrats signaled they would support the worker-assistance measure, which they voted down two weeks ago in a tactical bid to derail the trade authority bill.
The flurry of legislative action secured a hard-fought victory for Mr. Obama and the Republican congressional leadership. It kept on track an ambitious agenda to complete a sweeping trade Pacific trade agreement joining 12 countries — from Canada and Chile to Australia and Japan — into a web of rules governing trans-Pacific commerce. Negotiators will also move forward on an accord with Europe, knowing any agreement over the next six years cannot be amended or filibustered by Congress.
“This is a critical day for our country,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He called the trade promotion authority bill “the most important bill we’ll do this year.”
“It’s taken a while to get here, longer than many of us would have liked,” he added, “but anything worth doing takes effort.”
What You Should Know About the Trans-Pacific Partnership
The simple case against the Trans-Pacific Partnership We’ve seen this movie before. Trade deals have been advertised as increasing the size of the economic pie, but the benefits accrue mostly to big companies and their shareholders, while working-class Americans see job losses and income reductions as more of the work they once did moves overseas. Even if estimates of higher economic growth in the event of a deal are correct, many ordinary workers would end up worse off.
The diplomatic arguments the president makes are a fuzzy, noneconomic rationale that is hard to prove or disprove, which is a shaky basis on which to enter a trade deal.
Beyond those broad-brush arguments, though, the deal — like most trade agreements — would create a series of winners and losers.
Winner: American service industries Say you’re an insurance company that wants to operate in Malaysia or a telecommunications firm looking to expand in Japan or an online retailer having fits trying to get your Peruvian operation up and running. This deal should be good news.