The House is still on track to vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement next week, but several Republican senators are complaining that they won’t have a say in the process like they are meant to under the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) law.
Some GOP senators are expected to vote against USMCA when it eventually comes to the floor next year, but broad bipartisan support is also expected to push the pact through with backing from House and Senate leadership and the White House.
Still, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who was briefing senators throughout the morning, stressed to Agri-Pulse that the process is not done.
“The (Trump) administration is working with (House) Speaker Nancy Pelosi to jam the Senate,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters Thursday. “My understanding is there won’t be any opportunity to have input before the draft is actually sent up here and the clock starts ticking. I am concerned and there are others.”
Cornyn said he would not let his frustration over being shut out of the USMCA discussions affect his vote, but he stopped short of pledging to oppose it.
Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Pen., however, said he would not vote for USMCA and complained bitterly about the TPA process being violated.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, would only say he is still reviewing the pact that was altered as a result of months of negotiations between the Trump administration and House Democrats.
The Senate Finance Committee traditionally takes up proposed trade pacts in a “mock markup” where alterations can be proposed. The White House then considers those changes and finalizes the implementing language to be voted on by the House.
But USMCA is a legislative priority for the White House, so the process is being cut short, Republican senators say.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley promised a mock markup will be held, but no proposals will be accepted or considered.
“The administration feels they better act pretty quickly, so we’re going to have a mock markup, but (USMCA) can’t be amended, so the normal process of suggesting changes to the administration … isn’t going to be possible,” Grassley said.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kans., said he’s also frustrated with the deviation in process, but fully supports USMCA because of its importance to the U.S. ag sector.
“I have some questions about the process and the mock markup and all that, but in the end result every farm organization and every commodity group (say) it’s an extremely good bill on behalf of agriculture, farmers, growers, ranchers and everybody else concerned,” Roberts told Agri-Pulse. “I’m really pleased with the outcome.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, himself a former USTR, agreed that the process is being cut short, but stressed that he fully supports USMCA ratification.
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