Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Free-Trade Bill Back on Track in U.S. Congress, after Initial Stumble

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Free-Trade Bill Back on Track in U.S. Congress, after Initial Stumble

Article excerpt

Free-trade bill takes big step in U.S.

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WASHINGTON - The race to a major international trade deal cleared a key hurdle in the United States Congress on Thursday, recovering from a stumble two days earlier.

The Senate mustered enough votes to begin debate on a so-called, fast-track bill, seen by some as a prerequisite for reaching any free-trade deal with the U.S.

That debate is being watched closely by Canada and other countries seeking to complete negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, which would create a sprawling, 12-nation trade zone.

The legislation moved ahead with a 65-33 vote, enough to override a filibuster. It appeared stuck earlier in the week, when Democrats sided en masse against the bill -- and against their president.

The debate has created bitterness between the pro-trade Obama administration and the trade-skeptical Democratic caucus, in a bizarro-realm dynamic where Republicans are the president's biggest backers.

President Barack Obama pushed his own side to back the deal and the parties reached a procedural arrangement that swayed enough Democratic votes to open debate on the bill.

It led to a surreal scene Thursday: Republicans praising their rival-in-chief.

"I'd like to thank the president," said the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell.

"No, you're not hearing things. President Obama's done his country a service by taking on his base and pushing back on some of the more ridiculous rhetoric we've heard. ... He should be recognized for it."

The grumbling was on the Democratic side.

The party's left wing is fuming over several aspects of the trade talks -- notably the secrecy. Lawmakers being briefed on the negotiations say they can't even take notes from the room. They say business groups are helping shape the text, with little representation from labour.

Their opposition to free trade is longstanding -- and a repeat of the dynamic during the NAFTA debate, when Bill Clinton faced down his own skeptical caucus. …

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