Will free trade get a fast track?
Today Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) joined Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) and business owners in a press conference to discuss the Trade Promotion Authority. The TPA would “fast-track” trade legislation that would pave the way for the yet-incomplete Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
Leader McConnell and other proponents of the TPA are giving the legislation priority in spite of a growing debate over both transportation funding, and reauthorization of provisions of the Patriot Act that allow the NSA to collect phone records. Democrats have attempted to put the debate over the TPA until June (thus easing their own time crunch on desired pro-union amendments,) but Senate leadership is bucking all efforts to sideline the bill until after the Memorial Day recess.
You can watch the full press conference here (starting at 5:52):
As I previously wrote, it’s not just conservatives who are divided over the idea of a “fast track” option. Democrats too have pushed back against the TPA as it stands; last week Democrats filibustered a clean passage, instead advocating for amendments they claim will protect the rights of American workers and crack down on the effects of currency manipulation overseas. Republicans have also joined in in the effort to crack down on currency manipulation; however, backers of a cleaner TPA fear that these amendments could act as a “poison pill.”
Ending debate on the trade bill would block dozens of amendments. Nearly 90 of them had been filed as of Monday afternoon, with proposals coming from both sides of the aisle.
One amendment would extend the life of the Export-Import Bank. If adopted, that provision could become a poison pill for the fast-track legislation in the House.
Another amendment would eliminate the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which is a priority for Democrats.
Yet it’s a currency manipulation amendment from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) that is taking the lion’s share of the attention.
The Obama administration is firmly against such a provision, arguing it would doom the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement he is trying to complete.
Top Republicans, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.) have sided with the administration, arguing that adding the currency language would damage economic growth over the long term.
To their credit, backers of the TPA are focusing almost entirely on the benefits of a (potentially) more streamlined trade agreement process. In her comments during the presser, Joni Ernst (R-IA) focused entirely on how the TPA would benefit jobs in Iowa (20% of jobs in Iowa are affected by trade.) When asked about their concerns about currency manipulation, and the possibility of an amendment being added to address those concerns, both the senators and their private sector counterparts immediately pivoted back to jobs. Concerns about partisan stonewalling? No way—let me tell you about how this will help job creation.
Big focus on job creation, less focus on partisanship. It’s a powerful message, but whether or not its effective in convincing detractors that the TPA remains to be seen.
We’ll keep you updated on the vote. Leader McConnell has said that the Senate will remain in session until differences are resolved, so we could be in for a long haul.DONATE
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