LOSING THE substantive argument over President Obama’s bipartisan trade agenda, opponents are now resorting to procedural legerdemain. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has declared that he’ll attempt to filibuster pending trade-promotion authority legislation, which is needed to expedite consideration of a 12-nation deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That bill made it out of the Senate Finance Committee with 13 Republicans and seven Democrats voting for it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had planned to bring it to the floor in the coming days, where passage would be likely, though not certain, since most of the 54-member GOP majority supports it.
But now Mr. Reid says that the Senate should take up a transportation bill and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — and that he’ll try to muster a 41-vote filibuster of the trade-promotion bill unless Mr. McConnell agrees. Mr. Reid has half a point. Both of the bills he cites authorize crucial programs that will otherwise expire at the end of May; both are overdue for congressional updating. Holding trade hostage to them, though, would be sheer strong-arm politics. Mr. Reid’s threat puts the seven pro-trade Democrats from the Finance Committee, as well as others in his 46-member caucus who have been less vocal, on the spot — forcing them to choose between his filibuster and support for the president.
Mr. McConnell has already said that he won’t yield, so the battle appears joined. We hope that Democrats who support trade will do the right thing, notwithstanding Mr. Reid’s attempt to jam them, and oppose a filibuster. There should be plenty of time to deal with all the major issues before the Senate between now and the Memorial Day recess; certainly, there would be but for delaying tactics like Mr. Reid’s. Of course, delay is the name of his game, since free-trade opponents’ last, best hope at this point is to stall and stall until the window of opportunity to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Mr. Obama’s term closes.
The longer it takes the Senate to pass trade-promotion authority, the longer opponents have to round up opposition in the House, always the more trade-averse of the two chambers. On that front, there is some encouraging news, albeit scant, in that 16 Democrats, including Reps. Gerald E. Connolly (Va.) and John Delaney (Md.), have decided to support the president in spite of intense pressure from unions and other anti-trade interest groups in their party. Pro-trade forces in Congress understand that the United States stands to benefit most from a tariff-cutting pact, since the Asian partners’ tariffs are high and U.S. tariffs are already low, as a new report by the Council of Economic Advisers points out. That’s the kind of fact-based discussion the opponents can’t withstand, and which Mr. Reid’s last-ditch procedural chicanery is intended to avoid.