WASHINGTON, April 22, 2015 – Fast-track is finally on the fast track. It’s possible the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) deal needed to smooth the path through Congress for trade deals with 11 Pacific Rim nations and the European Union could be on the Senate floor as soon as next week, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be in Washington. And the House Ways and Means Committee said it would markup a series of trade bills Thursday morning.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who is a member of the GOP leadership as well as the Finance Committee, says there is a “very high sense of urgency” about moving the TPA legislation and that floor action next week is a possibility.
The Finance Committee scheduled a TPA bill markup Wednesday morning and a separate measure renewing Trade Adjustment Assistance programs. The bills will move in tandem under an agreement worked out last week among Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking Democrat on Senate Finance, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Passing TPA, which would ensure that Congress can’t amend a trade agreement, is seen as crucial to getting Japan and Canada to make critical concessions on their agricultural import barriers and other issues in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. The TPA process would be in effect for six years unless Congress takes action to end it.
Wyden won provisions in the TPA bill that would require greater public disclosure of trade agreements before they are signed and setting up a process to strip a trade agreement of its fast-track process.
Thune believes the TPA bill will have at least 60 votes on the Senate floor. The bigger question is whether it will have sufficient Democratic support in the House to overcome losses among GOP conservatives. The last time Congress approved TPA, in 2002, it passed the House by a single vote, 215-214.
Failing to pass this time would be a colossal embarrassment for GOP congressional leaders as well as President Obama, and on Tuesday he recorded an exclusive interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to make a pitch for TPA.
“Everything I do has been focused on how do we make sure the middle class is getting a fair deal. Now I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class,” Obama said. “And when you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is, when you dig into the facts they are wrong.”
One key House Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, tells Agri-Pulse that he hasn’t endorsed the TPA bill because he’s holding out to see whether Canada will make key concessions to reform its supply management system for dairy and poultry. Peterson voted against the 2002 bill.
With an eye toward GOP skeptics, the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday released a pro-TPA letter signed by 21 conservative groups, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the American Conservative Union. Groups notably absent from the letter include Heritage Action, the political advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation, and the Club for Growth. The Club for Growth earlier said it supported TPA but without including TAA, a Democratic priority. The Heritage Foundation has argued that Congress should mandate negotiating objectives, not leave them as goals, as the TPA bill does.
The House Ways and Means Committee scheduled a hearing Wednesday afternoon on TPA with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker as witnesses. Abe is due to address a joint session of Congress next Wednesday.
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