Trade bill slowed amid Senate dispute

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 4, 2015 - The timetable for moving a fast-track trade negotiating bill may be slipping amid a disagreement between Senate Republicans and Democrats over the terms of the legislation.

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Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he likely can't move the bill until after the Easter recess in April because he has been unable to reach an agreement on the legislation with his committee's ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden of Oregon. Another GOP committee member accused Democrats of "slow-walking" the issue.

The disagreement centers on the procedures that a trade agreement would have to follow to get to a final up-or-down vote in the Senate and House. Hatch declined to discuss details of the dispute.

“Some of the things I don't think any chairman can give him … and still want fast track to work. I'm not for diminishing fast track in any shape or form,” Hatch told Agri-Pulse.

Earlier, Hatch said he wanted to introduce a Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill last week. But he said today that lawmakers are likely to be tied up for the rest of the month with the budget issues, leaving little time to deal with TPA. The Senate and House budget committees are both expected to vote on budget plans the week of March 16, with floor debates to follow.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said President Obama needs to increase the pressure on Democrats to support his trade agenda. “Right now it's really a lot of slow-walking from Democrats on the committee and from the administration, not withstanding their statements to the contrary,” he said.

Another Republican member of Finance, Charles Grassley of Iowa, accused Wyden of trying to “move the goalposts” on the terms of the TPA bill.

A Democratic aide said the issues being negotiated “have been on the table since last fall, so no one should be surprised about what needs to happen to get this done.” Passing the TPA bill is seen as critical to wrapping up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement with 11 other Pacfitic Rim countries.

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