McConnell, Reid Agree to Path Forward For Consideration of Trade Bills, Including TPA

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By Rossella Brevetti and Len Bracken

May 13 — Senate leaders May 13 announced a path forward on trade legislation that would begin with consideration of customs enforcement and preference measures before the Senate turns to bills on trade promotion authority (TPA) and trade adjustment assistance (TAA) for workers adversely affected by trade.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) unveiled the plan on the Senate floor one day after Senate Democrats blocked the TPA measure because they wanted four pending trade measures considered as a package. 

Republicans in the Senate balked at the demand, which they said would sink the TPA bill because the customs measure contains a currency provision opposed by the administration and likely to draw a presidential veto. House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) also opposed the provision, which would deem currency manipulation a subsidy subject to countervailing duties.

“The plan I’m about to offer will follow the regular order on the trade bill, while also allowing Senators the opportunity to take votes on the customs and preferences bills—in a way that will not imperil the increased American exports and American trade jobs we need,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We would then turn to the trade bill with TPA and TAA as the base bill, and open the floor to amendments as I’ve suggested all week. It’s reasonable.”

The result of the deal is that the Senate May 14 will have roll call votes at 12:00 noon on H.R. 1295, which will be amended to contain the text of the preferences bill, S. 1267, and H.R. 644, which will be amended to contain the text of the customs enforcement measure, S. 1269. McConnell said these bills will not be subject to amendments or debate, and both votes will require a 60 affirmative vote–threshold and will.

At 2 p.m., the Senate will have a roll call vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to H.R. 1314, which is the legislative vehicle for the TPA legislation, S. 995. If cloture is invoked, the post-cloture time will be deemed to have expired at 10 p.m. on May 14, rather than 30 hours later, allowing amendments to be offered starting at that time.

Sen. Reid Backs Plan

Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) welcomed the agreement, calling it fair. Congressional sources told Bloomberg BNA May 13 that Reid had not agreed to a time limit on debating the customs enforcement and preference bills, which is now the case under the May 14 agreement.

TPA, which expired in 2007, would allow the president to submit implementing legislation for trade pacts subject to a straight up-or-down vote with no amendments. TPA would also expedite consideration of trade deal legislation by putting strict timelines on votes. Renewal of TPA is a key legislative priority for both President Barack Obama and most Senate and House Republicans. The authority is viewed as critical to bringing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the U.S. is negotiating with 11 other Pacific Rim countries, to a conclusion.

The combined preferences bill provides preferential U.S. market access to developing countries and includes measures on the Generalized System of Preferences; the African Growth and Opportunity Act; and tariff preferences for Haiti.

The bill to reauthorize and reform U.S. customs practices, which was adopted during the April 22 Senate Finance Committee markup of the four trade bills, includes the amendment that would make currency manipulation by U.S. trading partners subject to countervailing duties.

The House Ways and Means Committee reported essentially the same four bills April 23. However, the House customs bill did not include the currency amendment but does contain an amendment related to interest collected on dumping and countervailing duties to the crawfish processing industry that is not in the Senate bill. The two bills also differ with regard to duty-evasion provisions.

NAFTA Rule Book Set Aside

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said that robust trade law enforcement was a prerequisite to a modern trade policy. The Senate announcement, Wyden told reporters on Capitol Hill, “will drive home the message that the pro-trade Democrats sent yesterday—that a prerequisite to a modern trade policy, a policy that once and for all sets aside the [North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)] rule book, requires vigorous, robust, modern enforcement of trade law.”

He said that the Senate would work through the bills and take special care to address issues of consistency with U.S. World Trade Organization commitments.

“There is a long way to go, a lot of steps along the way, but at every step it was important to make sure that public interests are protected,” Wyden said.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement that Democrats should stick to the position that TPA “doesn’t move unless currency and other enforcement tools are included in the package. Anything less leaves America’s workers, domestic producers, and communities behind,” he said.

At a news briefing, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) characterized the original delay as a “little bump in the road,” adding that he believed there was a “majority in both the House and the Senate to give this president trade promotion authority.”

“I'm hopeful the Senate will act soon,” Boehner said. “When the Senate does, I hope we will act shortly thereafter,” he added. The TPA bill faces additional challenges once it reaches the House, where it is opposed by most Democrats.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rossella Brevetti in Washington at rbrevetti@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com

Sen. McConnell's statement is available at http://www.mcconnell.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=e513268c-940e-401c-9d29-b7ace4546db6&ContentType_id=c19bc7a5-2bb9-4a73-b2ab-3c1b5191a72b&Group_id=0fd6ddca-6a05-4b26-8710-a0b7b59a8f1f.