WASHINGTON, May 6, 2015 – A fast-track trade bill appears to have enough support to pass the Senate - the question is when. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who opposes President Obama’s trade agenda, is looking to delay a vote, arguing there isn’t enough time to deal with the bill before June because the Senate needs to address highway funding and an expiring surveillance law first.
Reid doesn’t claim to have enough votes to sustain a filibuster of the Trade Promotion Authority bill (S 955) but he does say he can prevent Republicans from moving the TPA measure without also passing three other trade bills at the same time, including one that would extend Trade Adjustment Assistance programs.
Reid would need 41 votes to keep the TPA bill from moving, and there is a sharp division over TPA within his caucus. Seven Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee voted for the legislation, notes the committee’s ranking Democrat and TPA supporter, Ron Wyden of Oregon. Republicans control 54 seats in the Senate.
Wyden said both President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., “very much want to do this” before the Memorial Day recess begins later this month.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., expressed optimism that the Senate can do that. McConnell “is going to set the agenda here,” Thune said. “
The House is in recess this week, but TPA supporters continue to look for votes there. Obama met for about an hour and a half April 30 with about 30 House Democrats. The vote count “is still fluid,” said Rep. Ron Kind, a Wisconsin Democrat and TPA supporter who was in the meeting. “It’s a tough issue. You have members who won’t make up their mind until they know it’s going to be scheduled and they know a vote is coming up.”
During the meeting, Obama “was very patient and very generous with his time and allowed members to ask questions or make comments so that he could hear and respond to all of them,” said Kind.
One idea being floated by TPA supporter, Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., to attract Democratic support is to create a trust fund to pay for enforcing trade laws. The Senate Finance Committee already has approved such a provision
Republicans have had nothing but good things to say about Obama’s engagement on the issue. McConnell said that Obama’s “speaking the truth to his base is welcome.”
Asked about Reid’s claim that the Senate does not have enough time to do TPA this month, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said, "My reaction is we're setting the bar awfully low if we think the Senate can only do one thing over the course of the next month. The American people have a higher expectation for the U.S. Senate to get things done that are clearly in the best interest of the American people, particularly when we know they have strong bipartisan support."
For more news, go to www.agri-pulse.com.