Procedural Dissolution Resolution Included for the First Time in TPA

Yesterday the Senate failed to pass a procedural vote on granting the president Trade Promotion Authority (TPA or so-called “fast-track“). As Ed Kilgore noted, this is probably not the end of the line for TPA. It will likely be brought up again very soon.

As I read commentary about the debate on this legislation, I often see an assumption that this TPA bill is exactly the same as others that have been approved in the past. Statements like this one from Senator Elizabeth Warren are regularly repeated.

The president has committed only to letting the public see this deal after Congress votes to authorize fast track. At that point it will be impossible for us to amend the agreement or to block any part of it without tanking the whole TPP. The TPP is basically done.

Here’s Steve Benen saying basically the same thing.

At issue is something called “trade-promotion authority” – also known as “fast-track” – which is intended to streamline the process. As we discussed a month ago, the proposal would empower President Obama to move forward on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiating its specific provisions. If successful, the White House would then present a finished TPP to Congress for an up-or-down vote – with no amendments.

Lawmakers would effectively have a take-it-or-leave-it opportunity.

And finally, here’s Caitlin MacNeal:

“Fast track” authority would limit Congress to a simple up or down vote on the TPP without amending the deal.

That’s pretty much how TPA is being described across the board. Those statements would be accurate if we were talking about trade promotion authority that has been approved in the past. But for the first time, the current TPA bill (you can download it from that link) contains the ability for Congress to pass a “procedural disapproval resolution” after a particular trade agreement is presented to them. Such a resolution can be presented for several reasons, but the most likely would be that it fails to adhere to the “trade negotiation objectives” outlined in the bill (IOW, a pretty open door). If such a resolution were to pass, it negates trade promotion authority and consideration of the agreement would then be open to amendments and a filibuster.

All of this is available to Congress AFTER a negotiated trade deal has been finalized and made available to the public. In other words, lawmakers would have three options:

1. Approve the trade deal
2. Reject the trade deal
3. Pass a procedural disapproval resolution and open up debate on amendments

Such a resolution would require 60 votes in the Senate to pass. But given that the opponents of TPA required 60 votes to approve it, the fact that dissolving it also requires 60 votes makes sense.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.