The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday approved the so-called fast-track trade legislation, sending the bill to the House floor, another step to move forward President Barack Obama's ambitious trade agenda.
The fast-track legislation, formally known as trade promotion authority (TPA) and approved by a Senate panel Wednesday, empowers the president to negotiate trade deals and then present them to Congress for up-or-down votes, with no amendments allowed.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday hailed the introduction of the legislation as "very good news," saying it will give Obama the flexibility to "negotiate credibly and effectively on our nation's behalf."
The House panel approved the legislation with 25 to 13 votes, with only two of the panel's 15 Democrats favoring the legislation, highlighting the difficulty Obama has winning support within his own party.
While Obama has made conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations as one of top priorities of his second-term's economic policy, liberal Democrats and activists from labor unions have vowed to block the president's trade agenda, arguing these trade deals have hurt U.S. workers and increased income inequality.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told reporters on Tuesday that he will not support the fast-track legislation. "The answer is not only no, but hell no," he said.
The House and Senate are likely to bring the legislation to the floor early next month, but it is unclear whether it could eventually get enough votes for passage in both houses of Congress.
If the legislation is passed by the full House and Senate, it would give U.S. trading partners the confidence they need to put their best offers on the table and help conclude the ongoing ambitious trade negotiations, according to lawmakers and trade analysts.