Senate leaders announced Wednesday that they reached an agreement to consider and likely approve fast-track authority for President Obama to reach trade deals, a day after an unusual filibuster by Democrats of their party’s presidential agenda.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced a plan that allows for a controversial provision that Democrats have been demanding – legislation targeting China’s alleged manipulation of its currency to make its exports cheaper – a separate vote Thursday afternoon. Not a part of the broader trade package, the China currency legislation has been opposed by the Obama administration but favored by many senators from Midwest states hit hard by manufacturing job losses in the last two decades.
This legislation, which also contains other measures for enforcing trade deals, is likely to pass the Senate but its ultimate fate remains in doubt in the House, with a potential presidential veto awaiting it. Still, once that measure is taken care of, McConnell said, the Senate would move to considering Trade Promotion Authority, which would give Obama a process that could make it easier to eventually win passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the expansive trade and tariff deal that the president is negotiating with 11 Pacific-rim nations. The path to passage continues to be most perilous in the House, where Democratic support for trade deals has cratered in recent years; it will be considered most likely in early June.
The Senate will also consider a bill that helps workers who, according to a Labor Department declaration, are deemed to have lost their jobs because their U.S. plant moved overseas searching for a cheaper labor force.
Roughly 50 Republicans and at least a dozen Democrats have declared their intention to support the TPA vote, but Tuesday’s failed vote to move into debating the legislation came amid objections from those supportive Democrats looking for a way to win approval for the currency manipulation language.
Led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the ranking member of the Finance Committee, the group initially wanted a guarantee that the currency language would be signed into law, but they were summoned to the White House “Cabinet Room” after Tuesday’s embarrassing vote left Obama facing a filibuster from his own party. According to those in attendance, the president spoke to the group for two hours and made clear that he wants this trade legislation approved and was willing to accept most of their enforcement measures on trade deals, just not the currency bill.
McConnell’s announcement signaled that the group of Democrats who met with Obama had essentially reversed the previous position articulated by Wyden, as the tough currency legislation is not likely to make it into law.