Fast-Track Trade Bill Edges Forward in Senate

May 26, 2015 12:00 PM
Fast-Track Trade Bill Edges Forward in Senate

The U.S. Senate defeated a proposal on currency manipulation opposed by President Barack Obama on the way to a final vote as soon as Friday night on the president’s fast-track trade bill.

Senators also adopted a competing currency provision backed by the administration, which is seeking passage of the fast-track trade measure in an unusual alliance with Republicans.

Power Hour Noon LogoTexas Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, said earlier he hopes the Senate will complete work on the trade bill as well as legislation to extend U.S. spying programs that lapse May 31 and continue federal highway funding for two months. The crunch of work is occurring as lawmakers try to leave town for their one- week Memorial Day break.

The fast-track trade bill, H.R. 1314, would let Obama submit trade agreements to Congress for an expedited, up-or-down vote without amendments. The president has said he wants to complete a 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and send it for approval under that procedure.

The measure is opposed by a number of Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Many Democrats remain stung by the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which is blamed by labor unions for a decline in U.S. manufacturing jobs.

“Everyone knows I disagree with the reason for the trade bill,” Reid said. “It’s not going to help the people I want to help. I’m happy multinational corporations are doing well but they’re not my” first priority.

Currency Policy

A difficult issue has been currency policy. On a 70-29 vote, the Senate adopted language crafted by Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon in cooperation with Obama’s Treasury Department.

It would allow currency rules in trade agreements but wouldn’t require them for fast-track consideration.

The Senate defeated, 51-48, an amendment offered by Senators Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, and Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, that would have required trade agreements considered under fast-track authority to have enforceable provisions against currency manipulation.

Senators defeated an amendment sponsored by Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, that would eliminate the Trade Adjustment Assistance program that aids workers who lose jobs because of trade deals. Also rejected was one by Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, that would eliminate from trade agreements a procedure that allows companies to sue governments over violations of trade rules.

12 Countries

An amendment pushed unsuccessfully by Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, would limit the president’s authority in the Asia region to a negotiation only with the 12 countries currently part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Senate passage would send the trade measure to the Republican-led House, where leaders may struggle to gain enough support to send it to Obama for his signature.

The spying bill presents a challenge for the Republican-led Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes a measure passed by the House. House members have already left Washington for their recess.

Cornyn said the Senate will vote on the House-passed bill, which would continue most of the government spying programs while blocking the National Security Agency from collecting bulk records on Americans. If that fails, and a two-month extension of existing rules also fails, Cornyn said the Senate will seek a shorter extension to prevent the spy programs from lapsing.

“The Senate isn’t going to get jammed by the House and the House isn’t going to let” the program go dark, he said.

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