WASHINGTON — The Senate reached a deal and path forward on presidential Trade Promotion Authority and three other trade measures Wednesday, overcoming a major roadblock that had stalled debate on the bills.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the Senate will begin debate and vote Thursday on two separate trade bills, including a trade preference measure and customs trade enforcement legislation, and proceed to a combined bill that includes TPA and Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that helps workers displaced by trade.
The deal between Republican and Democratic leaders paved the way for the Senate to once again try to open debate on TPA, a cornerstone of President Obama’s trade agenda. It is a measure that has pitted members of the President’s own party against him and set the stage for what is expected to be a bruising battle in Congress.
TPA allows Congress to set negotiating objectives and consultation requirements for the Executive Branch, but also limits lawmakers to an up or down vote on trade deals. It is seen as a linchpin to completing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries because it allows foreign governments to make their best offers knowing Congress cannot tear apart a final deal.
“The plan I’m about to offer will provide our Democratic colleagues with a sensible way forward without killing the bill,” said McConnell, adding that it will allow “senators the opportunity to take votes on the customs and preference bills in a way that will not imperil the increased American exports and American trade jobs that we need.”
Debate on TPA legislation was dealt a temporary setback Tuesday when the Senate failed to muster the 60 votes needed to move the measure forward, largely due to a revolt by Democrats, who demanded assurances on the other trade measures, with some calling for them to be combined in the TPA bill.
McConnell has agreed to first allow votes on the two bills that Democrats were seeking to advance, before taking up the more controversial TPA measure.
One would extend the African Growth & Opportunity Act for a decade, renew the Generalized System of Preference program that expired in July 2013 and extend trade benefits in the Hope and Help programs for products from Haiti through September 2025. The second measure is a customs enforcement bill that contains provisions Democrats favor, including one that would block imports made with forced or child labor.
Another aspect of the customs bill addresses the politically sensitive issue of currency manipulation and would allow for “actions with respect to assessing potential trade-agreement partners” if they fail to adopt appropriate policies to “address and correct persistent currency imbalances.” It would also allow for the potential imposition of duties on products from countries that intentionally lower the value of their currency against the dollar.
“I think we’ve come up with something that is fair,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.). “A bipartisan majority of the finance committee reported out four trade measures, fast-track, trade adjustment assistance, trade enforcement and a bill expanding trade for Africa. We want a path forward on all four parts of this legislation…The proposal today provides that path forward.”