The Senate cleared another procedural vote Tuesday on a bill to provide trade promotion authority to President Barack Obama. Senators will follow up with a final vote on Wednesday on that bill, coupled with a vote on a bill to provide trade adjustment assistance to workers who could lose jobs due to trade.
The vote was 60-37 to invoke cloture on the debate of the trade promotion authority (TPA) bill. If the Senate gives final approval to the bill, it will go straight to the president’s desk because the House passed it last week.
If the Senate passes trade adjustment assistance (TAA), it goes back to the House.
Both measures passed the Senate before as part of a single bill, but trade adjustment assistance did not pass in the House because Democratic members were trying to stop TPA.
With the assistance of the White House, congressional leaders have worked out a system of voting on trade promotion separately and then voting on the trade assistance bill as part of the popular African Growth and Opportunity Act bill.
President Obama strongly favors TPA, but has said he will sign the TPA bill only if there is an accompanying jobs assistance bill.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Senate Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said Monday they support the package.
Hatch has not supported TAA, but he said Monday, “I appreciate the strong support many of my Senate Democratic colleagues have provided in helping us advance this important bill.”
“I remain committed to working with all of my colleagues in our chamber to get this bill, along with the other pending trade bills, across the finish line and signed into law,” Hatch said. “It’s time to reassert America’s leadership on trade. This is the right policy at the right time and we cannot afford further delay.”
“The trade package currently before the Senate is a blueprint for trade done right,” Wyden said. “It will make our country stronger by opening new markets to American products and creating new opportunities for good-paying American jobs.”
“Taken together, this is the most progressive trade package ever produced,” Wyden continued. “I spent months negotiating this deal because it is in our country’s best interest.”
“It includes a trade promotion authority bill that creates unprecedented transparency and raises the bar on human rights, labor, and the environment, while promoting the open Internet,” Wyden said. “It includes a tough bill that beefs up trade enforcement and cracks down on trade cheats; and it expands support for workers through trade adjustment assistance and the health coverage tax credit.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she also would to vote for cloture on the trade promotion authority bill because expanded trade with the Asia-Pacific region helps California and the country as a whole. Feinstein cited California’s reliance on agricultural exports as a reason to vote for the bill.
“In 2013, agricultural exports were valued at $21.2 billion, making the state’s agriculture industry the largest by value in the United States,” she said.
Feinstein added, “According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, under TPP [the Trans-Pacific Partnership], nationwide agriculture exports are expected to increase by 5.4% by 2025. As with merchandise exports, agriculture products currently face steep tariffs in the Asia-Pacific region. Dairy products face a tariff of up to 35% in Japan while walnuts face a 30% tariff in Vietnam.
“With these tariffs reduced or eliminated, the TPP will only enhance California’s farmers, ranchers and producers,” Feinstein said.
The Trade Benefits Coalition, which includes many farm groups, sent a letter to senators urging them to pass trade promotion authority.
But the AFL-CIO also wrote a letter urging senators to “oppose the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan fast-track legislation, and to oppose moving any fast-track legislation before passage of trade adjustment assistance and the customs bill.”
“Without assurances that TAA will pass the House, or that the customs bill will ever see the president’s desk, considering fast track prematurely could compound its expected negative impacts, leaving U.S. workers in the lurch and depriving the U.S. manufacturing sector of vital tools necessary to combat unfair trade,” the union wrote.
The letter continued, “America’s working families cannot afford more trade policy made by and for global corporations and economic elites — trade policy that does nothing more than shrink paychecks and further diminish America’s struggling middle class.”