THE Senate was able to clear a major hurdle last Thursday on the debate for a bill granting the President fast-track authority for trade negotiations.
Earlier in the week, Democrats held the trade promotion authority (TPA) bill hostage, saying they wanted votes on other key legislative components, including a bill to help curb currency manipulation.
Tuesday's vote failed to reach the 60-margin threshold — divided along party lines at 52-45 — with Sen. Tom Carper (D., Del.) the only Democrat to vote in favor of the cloture motion.
After leaders brokered a deal last Wednesday, the motion to proceed to full debate of the bill passed 65-33 on Thursday.
Ahead of the vote Thursday, top agricultural Republicans held a press conference with commodity group leaders highlighting the need for TPA passage.
Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), who serves on both the finance and agriculture committees, said before Tuesday's fallout, the goal was for the Senate to wrap up the TPA debate before heading home for the Memorial Day recess next week.
Thune said the Senate may not get through the entire amendment process ahead of the recess, despite how many had hoped "to put this one up on the scoreboard before Memorial Day." He said it will depend entirely on the amendment process and how lengthy and exhaustive it becomes.
Dave Salmonsen, American Farm Bureau Federation senior director of congressional relations, said numerous amendments usually are offered but eventually are withdrawn and not even put on the floor. He expressed optimism that, if handled properly, the Senate could still advance the bill ahead of its recess.
Salmonsen said 65 votes in favor of TPA is a strong number. He has worked with Congress on TPA approval the last four times and said passage, in itself, is hard enough without also worrying about the margin of votes over the minimum.
Thune said the tougher battle for passing trade matters likely will be in the House, calling it a "heavier lift" to change the way of thinking for many. He did say the Senate's wider voting margin creates more momentum as the TPA bill heads to the House.
Ben Mosely, USA Rice vice president of government affairs, noted that the fate of TPA legislation is far from over as he expects there will be vigorous debate and an open amendment process, which began Thursday night.
"Even if the Senate passes the TPA bill, the measure will need to pass the House, where they may be as many as 20 votes short of passage," Mosely said.
Thune noted that of the 260 preferential trade agreements, the U.S. is party to only 20 of them. Agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership can be a huge market access win for U.S. agriculture in particular, he said.
California Farm Bureau president Paul Wenger said U.S. agricultural exports are on pace to decline $9 billion this year. "If we do not meet the demand, someone else will. We need to step up and empower the President," Wenger said.
The American Feed Industry Assn. (AFIA) board of directors also was on Capitol Hill during the week to convey the importance of TPA for the feed industry.
"Pending trade pacts, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, provide incredible growth possibilities through direct feed and ingredient exports as well as increased exports of U.S. livestock, poultry and dairy products," AFIA president and chief executive officer Joel Newman said.
Without passage of TPA, U.S. negotiators will continue to lack the leverage needed when negotiating free trade agreements.