WASHINGTON, April 29, 2015 – Legislation to fast-track new trade agreements is idling as Senate and House leaders gear up for floor debates on the bill, and President Obama steps up his appeals to Democrats for support.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday he expects to bring up the Senate version of the legislation “very soon” but didn’t specify when. John Thune, the chairman of the Senate Republican conference, said he expected the trade bill should be next in line after a pending measure for reviewing an Iran nuclear agreement. McConnell didn’t answer when asked how many votes the fast-track bill would have.

Nearly identical fast-track trade bills emerged from the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees last week. Supporters would like to see the legislation enacted in enough time so that the Obama administration can wrap up the Trans-Pacific Partnership and get that deal through Congress before it becomes mired in the 2016 campaign.

The bills detail negotiating objectives and disclosure requirements that the administration is supposed to follow and ensure that trade agreements get an up-or-down vote in Congress without the chance for amendments, under a process known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

“When we look back on this Congress, with the possible exception of the Iran nuclear issue, putting America back in the trade business could be the biggest accomplishment of this Congress,” McConnell told reporters. 

Thune said he expects there to be an open amendment process, which means there will be a fight over using the bill to curb currency manipulation. Still, Thune, a South Dakota Republican, said he hopes to get at least 65 votes for the bill. “I think there’s going to be a pretty strong vote coming out of here,” he said.

Senate Finance and House Ways and Means members voted down repeated amendments to add provisions aimed at forcing TPP member countries to adhere to the International Monetary Fund's currency standards. The administration warned that such restrictions could open the Federal Reserve Board to charges it manipulates the dollar through its quantitative easing policy.

Underscoring the importance of Japan and the TPP, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were among the guests invited to Tuesday night’s state dinner for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, along with Gregory Page, executive chairman of Cargill, Inc. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, fresh from moving the fast-track bills out of committee, were also on the list, along with Finance’s ranking Democrat, Ron Wyden. Conspicuously absent: The ranking Democrat on Ways and Means, Sander Levin of Michigan, who fought to stop the legislation. 


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