Thune worried about TPA 'getting lost' in Capitol Hill shuffle

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, March 4, 2015 - As Republicans work to accomplish their legislative agenda, a party leader is worried that a key trade measure will be overtaken by other political goals.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, in a conference call with reporters, spoke about a number of legislative goals Republicans would like to accomplish in the near future such as overriding President Barack Obama's veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline Approval act (S.1). While the party's goals are important, he said opposition to Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which would give the administration the ability to negotiate trade deals without further amendments from Congress, needs to be addressed with action, not conversation.

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“I'm concerned about (TPA) getting lost, because it's really important,” Thune said. “What I'm afraid is happening is although the president pays lip service to his support for trade, we're running into a lot of resistance right now from Democrats on Capitol Hill, some Republicans as well who, for various reasons, are now all of the sudden starting to oppose these trade deals.”

The process would be greatly helped, Thune said, if Obama would stress the importance of TPA and trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) with members of his party.

“We need presidential leadership,” Thune added. “We need the president up here working with members on his side of the aisle to persuade them that this is a good thing for our economy and for jobs. Even though we've heard him say that and we've heard members of his administration say that, we're not seeing any evidence that they're actually leaning into it and trying to get this done.”

Thune said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who chairs of the Finance Committee, the panel tasked with ultimately reporting a TPA bill, has been trying “for weeks now” to work with committee Democrats, but is running into a lot of resistance. He said demands that would be “impossible to meet” are slowing the process and could “undermine and torpedo a strong trade promotion bill.”

Wednesday, Hatch told Agri-Pulse he doesn't think he can move a TPA bill until after the Easter recess, which would push the legislation back until the Senate reconvenes on the 13th of April. He said he has been unable to reach an agreement with committee ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., but declined to discuss the details in question.

Thune, who was first elected to the House in 1997 and then the Senate in 2005, said the precedent for TPA is strong, which only underscores the necessity of the language. The last TPA measure expired in 2007.

“In the time I've been here, every major trade deal that's been done has been done under (TPA). There's a reason for that, because it helps you get a much better deal and it also ensures that these deals do get done,” Thune said. “If you don't allow your negotiators to go in with a strong hand to get the best deal possible, then you're going to end up with a bad deal.”

Today, Thune also introduced a bill aimed at preventing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the northern long-eared bat under the Endangered Species Act by withholding funding used to accomplish the listing. He said listing the bat because of concerns over the spread of white-nose syndrome - which has been found in 22 states, but not South Dakota - would be detrimental to forest health and management practices in his home state's Black Hills.

“I think it's fair to say that bad forest health also hurts the bats. If you don't have a healthy forest, in the long run, it's going to be bad for the bat populations,” Thune said. “This listing is not necessary, it will have very harmful impacts on the economy and jobs in the Black Hills, and isn't going to do anything - as far as we can tell - to address the fundamental problem with the bats.”

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