House And Senate Near Deal To Green-Light Trade Pact

WASHINGTON -- A sweeping trade agreement between the United States and a dozen Pacific nations could be approved by Congress as early as next week, a move that would signal a major victory for the special interests and corporations backing the deal.

House and Senate negotiators are closing in on a deal to "fast-track" the Trans-Pacific Partnership, according to congressional aides who spoke to The New York Times.

Approval of trade promotion authority for the TPP would effectively insulate the trade agreement from legislative obstacles in Congress, like filibusters and poison-pill amendments. Granting fast-track status to potential U.S. trade agreements has become standard practice in recent years.

On Capitol Hill, the negotiations have been led by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, a Democrat, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan, a Republican. Both men lead the powerful tax-writing committees in their respective chambers.

Aides told the Times that lawmakers were aiming to have a deal together by the end of the legislative session in two weeks, although they were skeptical that any final approval would be voted on before the New Year.

Outside of Washington, the TPP enjoys well-funded backing from a wide swath of corporations seeking cheaper access to markets overseas. The pharmaceutical, agriculture and technology industries would all likely benefit greatly if the TPP were approved.

But U.S. companies aren't the only ones pressing lawmakers to fast-track the TPP. On Monday, the Embassy of Canada, a party to the TPP, will host a reception "in honor of the Trans Pacific Partnership." This, despite the fact that the deal is far from done. Members of Congress and congressional staffers have been invited to the embassy shindig, which will "feature a selection of international beverages." (While congressional ethics rules prohibit members and staff from accepting meals and drinks from lobbyists, the free cocktails served up at embassy events are considered a "mark of courtesy.")

Opponents of the TPP have urged Congress to reject the fast-track plan, noting that the TPP has been negotiated almost entirely behind closed doors. There are also concerns that the TPP's tariff and export agreements could hurt the U.S. manufacturing sector.

U.S. Capitol Photos