Senate Finance panel leaders call for passage of fast-track authority

Senate Finance Committee leaders called on Wednesday for Congress to pass fast-track legislation aimed at smoothing the passage of any future trade deals. 

Panel Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said during a trade hearing that they are working on crafting trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation and are expecting the Obama administration to work with them toward gaining its approval in Congress. 

Baucus said it is time to "pass TPA and do it soon."

He noted that President Obama has asked Congress to craft legislation and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is encouraging lawmakers to move forward so "it's time for us to do our part, introduce a bill and do it quickly."

Fast-track authority, which allows for an up-or-down vote in Congress, isn't technically needed to begin or end trade talks, but it does give lawmakers a way of framing the debate and influencing the agenda in conjunction with the White House while, usually, signaling support for a particular agreement.

TPA expired in 2007.

"Sen. Baucus and I are currently working with our House counterparts to conclude a discussion on legislation to renew TPA," Hatch said during a hearing on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

"Once those efforts succeed, I hope that President Obama and his team will actively work with Congress to quickly seek its approval."

The hearing's witnesses placed a high level of importance on completing TPA because it they argued that it will strengthen the negotiating hand of U.S. trade officials who are working on the U.S.-European Union trade deal as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP is a 12-nation Asia-Pacific trade agreement that Obama and Froman, along with many of the other negotiators, are aiming to complete by the end of the year.

But Froman has said that he will not sacrifice the agreement's quality to meet a deadline.