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No Fast Track in Lame Duck

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Business groups have lost any hope that Congress will approve "fast-track" trade powers for President Obama in the lame-duck session of Congress.

With scores of Democrats opposed and liberal interest groups flexing their muscles, business groups say it's certain the legislation won't move this year.

"The reality seems that if Reid hasn't brought it forward thus far it's unlikely," said Stephen Ezell, a senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, which backs fast-track authority.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has criticized fast-track and made no effort to bring it to the floor. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has yet to even produce a fast-track bill.

Lame-duck approval of trade promotion authority, which would make it easier to negotiate trade deals by making them subject to an up-or-down vote in the Senate, had long been a dream for the groups.   

Now it appears the best chance for moving forward with the legislation would be next year - particularly if Republicans take over the Senate.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who is line to become chairman of the Senate Finance Committee under a Republican takeover, has said moving the legislation would be a top priority.

Ezell said that a Republican Congress could produce a TPA bill within the first three months of next year.

But a Senate aide suggested that the White House and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative would need to reach out to lawmakers in both parties to ensure passage.

Most House Democrats are opposed to fast-track authority, and could be even less likely to support it if it's drawn up by a Republican Congress for a lame-duck Democratic president.

Many Republicans are also skeptical of the legislation, and are not keen on giving the powers to Obama.

The congressional stalemate could make it tougher for Obama to complete two trade pacts under negotiations: a bilateral deal with the European Union and the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with Asian and Latin American governments.

Obama is headed to Beijing next month for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit where talks are expected to continue along the edges on the deal.

Ezell argued that if lawmakers want these trade deals to move forward that they have to understand that there is a strong link between trade promotion authority and the negotiations.