Update June, 2015: This bill was originally the "Defending Public Safety Employees' Retirement Act," which allowed federal law enforcement officers, firefighters, and air traffic controllers to make penalty-free withdrawals from their government retirement plans after they turn 50. It had passed the House on a vote of 407 to 5, and was approved by the Senate through unanimous consent. Through the amendment process, the House turned the original bill into a "legislative vehicle" for the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act (TPA) — previously a standalone bill in both the House and Senate. Seem shady? It happens more often than you might think.
In its current form, this bill would let the President submit free trade agreements to Congress for approval or rejection. Congress would be able to cast an up or down vote on an agreement, but they couldn't amend the terms of the deal. This bill has been making waves in Congress because it's considered the missing piece to a U.S. entry into the 12-country trade deal, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact (TPP).
For those with transparency concerns — critics who call these fast-track deals "secret backdoor meetings for corporate power" —
this bill requires that the legislative text of the trade agreement
be made public 60 days before the President could sign off on the
deal. This legislation would also include a mechanism for taking away
the ‘fast-track’ authorities if an agreement doesn’t meet the
requirements of this bill in the judgement of either chamber of
Tying Congress' hands on amendments and other legislative hurdles is why this bill is frequently referred to as a ‘fast-track’ for trade agreements. If passed, the fast-track would be available until July 1, 2018, and could be extended another three years at the President’s request.
Under this bill, all the trade agreements that the U.S. tries to get in on would have to meet some overall trade objectives including:
Gaining more open, equitable, and reciprocal market access.
Strengthening international trade and investment disciplines, and mediating disputes.
Growing the economy, raising living standards, promoting full employment in the U.S., enhancing U.S. competitiveness in terms of the economy (nationally and globally).
Ensuring that trade and environmental policies are mutually supportive — to protect and preserve the environment while optimizing the use of the world’s resources.
Respecting worker rights and the rights of children consistent with core labor standards — basically working in agreements that want to eliminate exploitative child labor.
Ensuring that small businesses get equal access to international markets, equitable trade benefits, and expanded export market opportunities.
Improving the effectiveness of legal regimes, creating more democratic societies, and bolstering respect for internationally recognized human rights.