Connecticut’s two senators voted with virtually all Senate Democrats to block fast track on the trade bill, a stunning defeat to President Obama by his own party.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy had said they would oppose fast track because it substituted a secretive process that gives the White House maximum power for an open and full debate by Congress of the trade deal’s merits.
And both were concerned that the underlying trade deal _ the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) lowering tariffs among 12 nations including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Malaysia and Chile _ would further erode Connecticut’s long tradition of manufacturing employment.
Blumenthal and Murphy voted with all but one of the Senate’s Democrats _ Tom Carper of Delaware _ to thwart consideration of fast track, which would free President Obama to negotiate the deal and then limit Congress to an up-or-down vote on it, with no amendments. The 52-45 votes fell six short of the 60 needed to overcome the Democratic filibuster.
The vote had put Obama in an odd alliance with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and other Republicans against Senate Democrats who usually stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the White House. During an appearance at Nike HQ in Oregon last week, Obama said Democrats expressing concern about detrimental effects of the trade deal were “making this stuff up.’’
Murphy voted to continue the filibuster “because of his concerns with fast track and because he believes the Senate needs to address pressing issues like the Highway Trust Fund, which expires at the end of the moth,’’ said spokeswoman Laura Maloney. “The present proposal is a disservice to Connecticut job growth and economic interest, as well as our national economy,’’ Blumenthal said in a statement. “I remain opposed to (fast track) because it would short-circuit congressional consideration of the largest trade deal ever negotiated.’’
The White House is looking for any Democratic support it can get, and one possible backer on the House side is Rep. Jim Himes. In an interview, Himes said he remains undecided. But he was adamant that whatever else is wrong with the strategy to win approval of the trade deal, the process is not secretive.
Like other forms of negotiation, trade deals typically are negotiated behind closed doors, Himes said. But when this one is done, it will be out in public for 60 days before Obama signs it. Then Congress gets two-to-three months to go over it before voting. “I’m not saying TTP is the right thing, but there is fair criticism and unfair criticism,’’ he said. “`Scary, secretive deal’ is unfair criticism.’’