Senate takes 'major step forward' on trade bill

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, May 21, 2015 - The fast-track trade bill cleared another hurdle as the Senate voted to move ahead on the legislation, 62-38, after a deal was reached to vote separately on the Export-Import Bank.

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the cloture vote a “major step forward,” but talks continued on a series of possible amendments.

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Thirteen Democrats voted for the motion to end debate on the text of the Trade Promotion Authority measure, which is being inserted into a House-passed tax bill (HR 1314) for procedural reasons. The TPA bill would establish the fast-track process for approving new trade agreements, and extend Trade Adjustment Assistance programs, which provide payments and technical help to workers, farmers and businesses hurt by imports.

Several Democrats, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Washington's senators, held back their votes on the cloture motion for an extended time while they huddled with top Republicans.

Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell had been demanding a vote on extending the Ex-Im Bank. The Boeing Co., a huge employer in her state, is a major beneficiary of the bank. After a final huddle with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, she and home-state colleague Patty Murray voted for the cloture motion.

Cantwell told Agri-Pulse she was promised a Senate vote in June on the Ex-Im Bank. Prior to the vote, President Obama personally committed to getting the Ex-Im extension done as part of his "trade agenda," she said.

"We can't have TPA and not have Ex-Im Bank. He's very committed to getting us action in the House on that issue," Cantwell said. 

House conservatives are determined to block an extension of the Export-Import Bank, putting pressure on the Senate to make the first move in some fashion. The bank's legal authority expires at the end of June. 

House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday he promised the chairman of the House Financial Services, Committee, Ex-Im opponent Jeb Hensarling, that there would be an open amendment process in the House if the Senate sends over an extension measure.

McConnell, R-Ky., has pledged to finish the TPA bill this week. 


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