• Obama's Trade Deal Could Get Even More Divisive
  • May 15, 2015
  • Law Firm: McDonald Hopkins LLC - Cleveland Office
  • The effort to give President Obama "fast-track authority" to negotiate a new Asian trade deal has already been divisive on the Hill, and it appears to be getting even more divisive.

    Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will introduce legislation to end the oil export ban next week, and suggested it could move as an amendment to the upcoming trade bill.

    Murkowski has long been a vocal advocate of lifting the ban. But the standalone bill will mark the start of an intensified push by the chairman to fundamentally alter the decades-old policy barring the sale of most U.S. oil abroad.

    Laying out her thinking during a meeting with reporters, Murkowski said she believes the export bill could advance three different ways: on its own, as an amendment to another piece of legislation such as the so-called "fast-track" deal that would grant Congress an up-or-down vote on international trade agreements negotiated by the White House, or as part of a broader energy package that the Senate panel is currently working to formulate.

    If Murkowski ties ending the export ban to the "fast-track" bill, which faces intense opposition from many Democrats, it could make the push to pass trade promotion authority even more contentious.

    Democrats, labor, and environmental groups strongly oppose the trade legislation, saying it would pave the way for Obama to finalize a trade deal that will hurt American workers and the environment.

    The politics of lifting the export ban are also tricky. The issue has divided Republicans in the past, and many senators are wary of lifting the ban for fear that it could cause gasoline prices to spike. A spate of recently released studies, including research from the nonpartisan advocacy group Resources for the Future, suggest that lifting the ban would actually cause gas prices to go down.

    Supporters of exports also make the case that lifting the ban would bolster national security.

    During Senate debate over Iran sanctions last month, Murkowski introduced an amendment to lift the ban; however, the amendment did not come to a vote.

    It is unclear how many Democrats would sign on to the push to lift the ban. A number of high-profile Democrats, most prominently Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Bob Menendez of New Jersey, strongly oppose lifting the ban.

    An attempt by Republican senator and 2016 presidential contender Ted Cruz to pass an amendment lifting the ban during debate over the Keystone XL pipeline in January ruffled feathers among export advocates who believed the issue was not yet ripe and feared that bringing any amendment to a vote would result in failure.