Senate Puts Trade Bill Back On Track

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -

A 12-nation Pacific trade agreement cleared a crucial test in the U.S. Senate on Thursday, giving a resounding thumbs-up to legislation that holds the key to President Barack Obama’s diplomatic pivot to Asia.

Just two days after Democrats defied Obama to block debate on the “fast-track” trade negotiating authority that he needs to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, the Senate voted 65–33 to move ahead with considering the measure.

On this second try, 13 of 44 Democrats supported the legislation after they won a separate vote on a bill punishing countries that unfairly manipulate their currencies to keep their exports cheap, and following a renewed round of personal lobbying by Obama.

Republicans voted in lock-step to give supporters of the legislation more than the 60 votes needed to proceed in the 100-member Senate.

Under fast-track, Congress can approve or reject trade deals such as the TPP deal, but it cannot amend the contents of the pact, a key part of Obama’s strategy to counter China’s rising economic and diplomatic clout in Asia.

The Senate is expected to debate amendments to the bill next week. One likely amendment would impose tough rules against currency manipulation in trade deals, which the Obama administration opposes.

The bill must also pass the House of Representatives, where a tougher fight is expected. Trade is a hot-button issue with many Democrats in the United States, as labor unions and environmentalists — two of their important political supporters — are actively trying to kill fast-track.