Senate plots 'early' action on trade powers

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2015 - Senate Republicans are promising to move quickly on a bill to give President Obama fast-track trade negotiating authority without protections leading Democrats want.  

The committee's new GOP chairman, Orrin Hatch, said the panel would take up the trade promotion authority bill  (TPA) “early in the year” and that he was “a little bit loathe” to include changes that the committee's ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon, was likely to seek.

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Wyden last year called for a “smart-track” approach to TPA that would give Congress a greater role in deals - the ability to “right the ship if trade negotiators get off course.” His predecessor as chairman of the committee, Max Baucus, D-Mont., had negotiated a bill with House Republicans that lacked the provisions Wyden wanted.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, a member of Finance, said the TPA bill would likely “hue pretty closely” to the one Baucus negotiated before leaving the Senate to become ambassador to China.

“I suspect it will be a fairly straightforward bill that comes out of the committee, and when it comes to the floor there will be a lot of Democrats and Republicans who want to add amendments to it,” said Thune, R-S.D. 

Hatch did not rule out working with Democrats to extend the Trade Adjustment Assistance program that helps workers harmed by trade agreements.  “I'm certainly for TPA and I'm realistic to know we'll have to look at TAA, too. I'm not enthusiastic about it, because I think it won't work as well as it should,” Hatch said.

Hatch said he would be meeting weekly with his House counterpart, Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to discuss strategy.

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The Obama administration needs TPA in order to wrap up negotiations on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP). Trade policy is likely one of the few major issues where congressional Republicans and President Obama can agree this year and was reportedly a topic of discussion when he met last month with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“This is an area where I think we can do something big for the country,” McConnell said. “The big challenge for the president will be to get his own members to give him authority to negotiate this deal (TPP) and send it up to us.”

The administration also is negotiating a separate agreement with the European Union.

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