Thumbing its nose at the wide swath of constituencies and civil society groups that oppose corporate-friendly trade deals, the U.S. Senate voted Thursday to end debate on Fast Track trade legislation, handing a significant victory to President Barack Obama and moving the bill a step closer to passage.
Fast Track, or Trade Promotion Authority, would allow the president to send the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as well as other so-called "free trade" pacts, to Congress for an up-or-down vote, preventing such deals from being amended by Congress. The authority would remain in place for six years.
According to news sources, a final vote on Fast Track could come as soon as Thursday afternoon if senators agree to limit the final 30 hours of debate allowed under Senate rules.
"The majority of our senators chose corporate polluters over the American people by voting to forfeit their input into trade negotiations."
—Luísa Abbott Galvão, Friends of the Earth
The Huffington Post reports that "[t]he measure nearly failed, and only advanced after about a dozen senators engaged in a tense discussion in the middle of the Senate floor while they were still several votes shy."
In the end, the bill passed 62-38; the full roll call can be viewed here.
According to The Hill, 12 Democrats voted to end debate: Sens. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Tom Carper (Del.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Chris Coons (Del.), Mark Warner, Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), and Ron Wyden (Ore.), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.
Environmental, labor, food safety, public health, and digital rights groups oppose Fast Track on the grounds that it forces Congress to abdicate its policy-making responsibility while greasing the skids for secretly negotiated, corporate-friendly, rights-trampling trade pacts like the TPP. They voiced that opposition on Thursday.
"The Senate just put the interests of powerful multi-national corporations, drug companies and Wall Street ahead of the needs of American workers."
—Senator Bernie Sanders
In a statement following Thursday's vote, Friends of the Earth climate and energy campaigner Luísa Abbott Galvão chastised the senators who "chose corporate polluters over the American people by voting to forfeit their input into trade negotiations. Fast Track eases approval of trade deals with provisions that would impede future action by Congress and states to act on climate. A vote for Fast Track is a vote to accelerate climate change in the name of corporate profits."
And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of 38 senators to vote against the bill, declared: "The Senate just put the interests of powerful multi-national corporations, drug companies and Wall Street ahead of the needs of American workers. If this disastrous trade agreement is approved, it will throw Americans out of work while companies continue moving operations and good-paying jobs to low-wage countries overseas."
The Washington Post reports that Fast Track "is now almost certain to pass the Senate, possibly over the weekend, and then heads for an uncertain fate in the House, where Democratic opposition to Obama’s trade agenda is more deeply ingrained."