WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) dealt a potential setback to President Obama’s trade agenda on Wednesday after he told reporters on Capitol Hill that he is opposed to so-called “fast track authority” that would give the U.S. more leverage in negotiating trade deals.
“I’m against fast track,” Reid said of the authority, which is now called trade promotion authority.
TPA, which expired in 2007 under President George W. Bush, is seen as vital to completing several trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations between the U.S. and 11 other countries and the Trans-Atlantic trade deal between the U.S. and European Union.
Under TPA, Congress does not have the ability to amend trade pacts negotiated by the Executive Branch and can only vote up or down on them. Obama asked Congress to approve the authority in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
“We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA,’” Obama said. “China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we.”
Asked whether he would bring a TPA bill to the floor, Reid responded, “We’ll see.”
“Everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now,” he said.
Reid is seen to be in a tough position on TPA because Congress is heading into a midterm election year and Democrats are trying to hold onto the majority in the Senate. Many Democrats in the Senate and the House have stated publicly that they oppose renewal of the authority, claiming it will hurt U.S. manufacturers and workers. In addition, organized labor and environmental groups have also been strongly opposed to TPA.
“If the majority leader is not interested or not ready for TPA to go to the floor, that is a serious blow to what the business community had been hoping for — quick action to approve TPA,” said Julia Hughes, president of the U.S. Fashion Industry Association. “Many people, while pleased Obama mentioned TPA in the State of the Union address, thought it was a bit tepid, so there was already sensitivity there. This is a bit of a surprise for Reid, who is a Democrat, to come out and say this today after the State of the Union address.”