Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit last week to the United States was a huge success. Through the visit, President Obama and the Prime Minister affirmed the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a trade agreement, but also as a strategic security tool for the Asia Pacific region. The Prime Minister also made his mark as the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint meeting of Congress.
Unfortunately for TPP supporters, opposition forces in Congress have taken the wind out of the sails of the Prime Minister’s successful state visit. Controversy continues to brew in Congress over the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, legislation to grant the President Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) to negotiate international deals that Congress can approve or disapprove, but which Congress cannot filibuster or amend. TPA is seen as essential to completing a treaty like TPP which is being negotiated with 12 countries.
This week Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) indicated he wants to place the bill on hold until the Senate considers other major legislation, including proposed surveillance reforms and surface transportation legislation. This posture places Senator Reid at direct odds with President Obama’s push for TPA authority. Although Republicans who generally support free trade now control the Senate calendar, efforts to block movement of the bill could significantly slow the measure. The situation is further complicated by opposition from GOP Senators, including Senator Jeff Sessions, who issued a “Critical Alert” this week arguing that the TPA yields “new power to the executive” and will lead to expanded executive action on immigration. Republican supporters of TPP say that it will not lead to changes in immigration law. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman reiterated this position in his April 22, 2015 letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Passage of TPA will take continued active engagement from supporters in both chambers.