WASHINGTON, May 21 (UPI) -- The Senate moved forward legislation that would allow President Barack Obama to hasten the passage of trade agreements, including a pending deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations.
In a 62 to 38 vote, the Senate agreed to limit the debate on a bill that grants the White House "fast track" negotiating authority, a move considered the first step to approving the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement with Japan and 10 other Asian and Latin American nations.
"This is quite possibly the most important debate that we'll have all year in Congress," said Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, in floor debate before the vote. "It's something that's very highly wished for by the president of the United States and by a bipartisan majority."
The legislation allows Obama "trade promotion authority," which means trade deals can move quickly without the threat of Congress adding additional amendments or altering the language.
The Senate is expected to approve the measure before the end of the weekend and adjournment for the Memorial Day holiday. It will then be taken up by the House in June, where it will face heated debate from Democrats who widely oppose the treaty, saying it will steal jobs from Americans.
The White House maintains U.S. producers need broader access to foreign markets.