Senate GOP sets up first key fast-track trade vote

By Philip Brasher

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WASHINGTON, May 6, 2015 - Senate Republican leaders are pushing ahead with a fast-track trade bill, setting up the first key vote for next Tuesday.

The 60-vote threshold on the GOP move to proceed with the legislation will provide a test of White House leadership and internal Democratic divisions on the trade issue. Republicans control 54 seats themselves.

The legislation will combine two bills that emerged from the Senate Finance Committee last month, the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) measure (S 995) that would ensure trade agreements get an up-or-down vote in Congress without threat of amendment, and a bill extending Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) programs, said Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the GOP whip.

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Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who opposes President Obama's trade agenda, has threatened to slow the trade legislation and said the Senate didn't have time to move the bills until June.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., formally moved Thursday to bring up the trade legislation after senators finish debating a bill to review a nuclear deal with Iran.

“This is also a test of the White House,” said Cornyn. “This is one of President Obama's priorities. We happen to agree that it's an important issue, so they're going to have to produce some Democratic votes. They're going to have to buck their own leadership.”

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Cornyn said he expected all 54 Republicans to support the motion to proceed on the bill. But some Republicans, including Richard Burr of North Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio, could lead fights for amendments on currency manipulation and other issues.

Burr, who voted against the TPA bill in the Finance Committee, told reporters that he didn't think the bill could pass the House without stronger language to prevent other countries from manipulating their currency. The administration has strenuously objected to such a provision, arguing that it could be used to challenge the Federal Reserve's economic stimulus efforts known as quantitative easing. 

“We have a number of hurdles,” Cornyn said. “There's something to like and not to like in the package, but we'll work our way through it.”

Obama, who is putting pressure on Democrats to move the trade bill, summoned a group to the White House Wednesday afternoon to discuss the issue, Politico reported. The administration has “encouraged us mightily to move TPA and they continue to do so, and they should," said TPA supporter Tom Carper , D-Del. Carper was one of seven Democrats on Finance to support the bill. Five joined Burr in voting against it. 


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