This was a vote on final passage of legislation approving a free-trade agreement between the U.S and Panama. This agreement had already passed the House of Representatives and was supported by the Obama administration. (President Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, had signed the agreement in 2005.)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) urged support for this agreement: “The Panama agreement will pack a significant economic punch for the United States….the International Trade Commission estimates that U.S. grain and meat exports to Panama will increase 60 percent. In the past several years, my state of Georgia has experienced a 327-percent increase in exports to Panama. While these exports have increased despite the tariffs exporters are burdened with, a fair and free trade agreement will allow these firms to export duty-free, increasing the capital available to them and giving them more opportunity to grow. This agreement will have major implications for Georgia's agricultural producers. In fact, all three of these trade agreements will give major benefits to Georgia's agriculture sector.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) opposed the Panama agreement: “Panama has its own labor abuses, but its status as a tax haven is perhaps most troubling. Approximately 400,000 multinational corporations are registered in Panama, many of which have license to conduct business without reporting or paying taxes. While the Obama administration stepped in and negotiated a tax information exchange agreement, this agreement lacks the transparency required to assure compliance. The benefits of a trade agreement with Panama barely register by any economic measure. I believe it would be a mistake to encourage trade with a country that offers little to the United States but that so brazenly facilitates the breaking of our tax laws.”
The Senate approved this agreement by a vote of 77-22. All 46 Republicans present and 31 Democrats voted “yea.” 22 Democrats—including a majority of progressives—voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate approved a free-trade agreement between the U.S and Panama, thereby clearing the way for the agreement’s enactment.