Trade bill picks up steam with key Senate Democrat endorsement

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 22, 2015 - The fast-track trade bill got a key boost with a top Senate Democrat's announcement that he would support advancing the measure to a final congressional vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has set a cloture vote on the Trade Promotion Authority bill (HR 2146) for Tuesday. If the cloture motion gets the necessary 60 votes, the bill would move to a vote Wednesday that would clear the legislation for President Obama's signature.

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Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said Monday he would support the cloture motion after “around-the-clock” discussions with McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and fellow Democrats over the handling of a series of trade measures, including TPA.

“The trade package currently before the Senate is a blueprint for trade done right,” Wyden said Monday.

In addition to the TPA bill, the Senate will also vote this week on legislation combining an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance programs with a renewal of duty-free status, or “preferences,” for imports from poor nations (HR 1295).

And, significantly, McConnell announced Monday that he would seek to pass a compromise version of a trade enforcement bill (HR 644) “as quickly as possible.” The Senate and House have passed versions of the bill with significant differences that a conference committee must reconcile.

Wyden said last week that he would insist on passage of the enforcement bill as well as the TPA, TAA and preferences measures. The TPA legislation sets guidelines for trade negotiations and establishes the process for considering agreements in Congress without the risk of amendments. 

The Senate originally approved a combined TPA-TAA bill, but the House was unable to pass it and last week approved the TPA bill separately, leaving the TAA extension to be folded into the preferences bill.

The 14 Democrats who voted for the TPA-TAA bill the first time would be key to the cloture vote Tuesday. One of the 14, Bill Nelson of Florida, said Monday evening that he expected all but one or two of them to vote to advance the TPA measure.

Wyden stopped short of saying sufficient Democratic support for TPA was assured but told reporters “there's great interest in getting this done this week.”

The biggest question marks heading in to Tuesday's votes appeared to be the two Washington senators, Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, who have been pushing to keep alive the Export-Import Bank, a major source of financing for Boeing. Its authorization is set to lapse June 30.

McConnell did not give a deadline Monday for finishing the enforcement measure.

“It was always the goal to ensure that these bills pass Congress in the end. It remains the bipartisan goal today. We're now on the verge of achieving it,” McConnell said. “With just a little more trust, a little more cooperation, and simply voting consistently, we'll get there.”

The TAA-preferences bill would still need to be approved by the House, if the Senate OKs it.

A conference report on the enforcement bill would have to be considered in both chambers.


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