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This We Do Know About TPP: The Shouting Is Already Loud

Secretary of State John Kerry (left) greets Boeing employees in May prior to talking about the benefits to U.S. exporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Saul Loeb
Secretary of State John Kerry (left) greets Boeing employees in May prior to talking about the benefits to U.S. exporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Even though President Obama has not yet released details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership announced Monday, supporters and opponents are making their voices heard — at full volume.

Business leaders and interest groups hope their impassioned pleas will sway Congress, which must vote on the proposed deal next year.

This is what the cheers sounded like:

"TPP is a major win not only for the beef industry, but for all U.S. export products, growing the economy while supporting jobs and investments in agriculture and technology." — Philip Ellis, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association

This is what the boos sounded like:

TPP will hurt factory jobs and, by raising some medicine prices, "contribute to preventable suffering and death." — Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen's Access to Medicines Program

So, either the trade agreement will deliver good times — or inflict suffering and death. Pick one.

Those are the kind of intense feelings lawmakers will have to sort out when they review the trade agreement that promises to more closely tie together the United States with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The White House says TPP would: phase out import tariffs that impede trade; establish uniform rules on intellectual property; crack down on wildlife trafficking; and open up the Internet in more countries.

Obama is cheerleader-in-chief on TPP. He says it will help "our farmers, ranchers and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products."

Moreover, TPP "includes the strongest commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history, and ... it promotes a free and open Internet," he said.

Supporters include U.S. tech companies, cattlemen, farmers and apparel makers who say TPP will boost sales around the Pacific Rim.

But on the president's left, union leaders, along with many environmentalist and public-interest groups, aren't buying any of it. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, says the deal would be "disastrous" because it could increase low-wage competition.

"Wall Street and other big corporations have won again. It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense," said Sanders, who says he will fight the deal in the Senate.

But exactly when such a vote might happen is unclear. It could come as early as February — or as late as December 2016.

Here's what happens next:

  • In coming days, the U.S. Trade Representative's office will conduct a legal "scrub" to settle on the final, detailed language. As everyone has been told, the devil resides in details, so this step is important.
  • Obama must notify Congress that he intends to sign TPP in 90 days. During this period, the deal can be publicly reviewed.
  • When that ends in early January, the president would be free to sign TPP. But then he must wait another 30 days before submitting the implementing legislation to Congress.
  • That means in early February, Obama could use his "fast-track authority" to present Congress with the deal for a simple majority vote, with no possibility of amendments.
  • Given that Republicans control both the House and Senate — and Republicans typically support free trade — it might seem Obama would get an easy path to victory.
  • But — and this is a big but — the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees could offer suggestions for changes before the implementing legislation gets submitted for final passage. Those suggestions, along with requests for more information, could slow the process so much that TPP could get stalled until after the election in November 2016.
  • Alternatively, Republican leaders could listen to the pleadings of business groups and speed up the process with expedited pro-forma sessions. That could get TPP done quickly, before the presidential election fully occupies everyone's attention.
  • So here's what we know: The deal's details have not yet been released, and a timeline for a U.S. vote cannot yet be predicted. Still, everyone is up in arms. Welcome to Washington.

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    Marilyn Geewax is a contributor to NPR.