Actions taken by the Obama administration this week indicate that the White House is working to obtain congressional approval of the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership as soon as possible in 2016 and does not want to delay a vote until after national elections next November. However, initial reactions from key lawmakers and others indicate that reaching this goal is not a foregone conclusion.
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President Obama notified Congress of his intent to sign the TPP Nov. 5, the same day the U.S. and the other 11 member countries made public the text of the agreement’s 30 chapters. The notification begins a 90-day period after which the U.S. may sign the agreement. Tim Reif, newly appointed chief transparency officer at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said the administration will then submit draft implementing legislation to Congress, which will likely conduct what is referred to as a “mock markup” to signal any changes it believes should be made.
Once this process is complete the president will be able to submit a final implementing bill, though there is no statutory deadline for doing so. At that point the House and Senate will each have a certain number of legislative days to consider the bill in committee as well as on the chamber floors. Lawmakers will be able to approve or reject the legislation but may not amend it.
Reaction to the TPP text and the administration’s intent to sign it has been mixed, with vocal opposition to specific provisions deemed objectionable and caution from those who say they are reserving judgment until they have read the agreement fully. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee Chairman Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, both said the White House will need to convince Congress that TPP is the best agreement possible and measures up to the negotiating objectives set forth in the trade promotion authority bill Congress passed this summer, though Hatch opined that the agreement “may fall short” with regard to its intellectual property provisions. Senate Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he looks forward to “digging into the details” of the agreement, and House Ways and Means Ranking Member Sander Levin, D-Mich., added that committee Democrats will hold “a series of in-depth public hearings” on TPP beginning the week of Nov. 16.