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By Len Bracken
Jan. 28 — Sponsors of trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation would like to introduce their bill after the Feb. 16-20 Presidents' Day recess, according to a Jan. 22 memo circulated within the New Democrat Coalition and obtained Jan. 28 by Bloomberg BNA.
The legislation is still being crafted by Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Despite efforts from Wyden and others, Ways and Means ranking member Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) continues to withhold support for the TPA negotiations, the memo said.
“As of today, Wyden is still waiting for Hatch/Ryan to counter his latest proposal,” the memo said. “Once the four corners of TPA are agreed to, Hatch/Wyden/Ryan will negotiate the sequencing and what additional items will be included in the package.”
The memo, which was written by New Democrat Coalition staff, said that as of now there is general agreement that Senate Finance would mark up the bill first. Roughly seven to nine Democrats on the panel are expected to support TPA, according to the memo.
The memo charted what was described as the most likely path for the bill as moving from Ways and Means to the House floor and then to the Senate floor. An alternative possibility, the memo said, is that the bill would go to the Senate floor before coming over to Ways and Means.
“In order for that to occur, House [Republicans] would have to agree and send over a revenue bill for the Senate to amend,” the memo said.
Republicans and Democrats agree that there will be add-ons to TPA, including renewal of Trade Adjustment Assistance, the Generalized System of Preferences and the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
“Whether the individual pieces will move to the House floor as part of an omnibus trade bill or separately is still to be determined,” the memo said, adding that the ability of the New Democrats to show strength of support for TPA with those add-on provisions will increase the chance of having one big package.
Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) leads the coalition, which bills itself as a “fiscally-responsible, moderate bloc of lawmakers.”
Under TPA, Congress provides the executive branch streamlined up-or-down voting procedures for congressional approval of trade agreements in exchange for the administration meeting the negotiating objectives and consultation requirements set out in the bill.
According to a moderate Democrat's congressional aide, the list of priorities in the memo does not necessarily reflect deal-breaking issues required for New Democrat support, but instead outlines issues the coalition would like included in the legislation, including:
• establishing a transparency officer at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and creating a transparency policy;
• requiring the final trade agreement—with plain English summaries of each title—to be posted on a public website before the president signs the agreement;
• issuing a Federal Register notice of the president's intent to sign the agreement, with an opportunity for the public to comment;
• allowing personal office staff of lawmakers to review the texts of trade agreements; and
• supporting Wyden’s proposal requiring Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees to certify that an agreement has met TPA policy objectives before the agreement is granted “fast-track” treatment with regard to voting procedures.
Specific issue areas highlighted in the priorities include enforceable labor and environmental standards and provisions; currency manipulation; strong intellectual property and trade secrets protections for U.S. companies; and inclusion of negotiating objectives on the Internet and digital trade.
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