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Senators Reach Deal to Fast-track Trade Bill

Thursday, 16 April 2015 01:29 PM

Top congressional Republicans and Democrats say they've reached a deal to allow President Barack Obama to negotiate trade deals subject to an up-or-down vote from Congress.

The "fast-track" legislation comes as Obama seeks a sweeping trade deal with 11 Pacific nations. It would renew presidential authority to present trade deals that Congress can endorse or reject, but not amend.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership proposes a trade agreement involving the United States, Japan, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico and seven other Pacific-rim nations.

The debate scrambles traditional partisan alliances.

Labor unions and others say the Pacific pact would hurt U.S. job growth and encourage other countries to abuse workers and the environment. The Obama administration rejects those claims, and says U.S. goods and services must have greater access to foreign buyers.

Republican Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said the legislation, key to closing a 12-nation Pacific trade pact and the Obama administration's pivot to Asia, could be unveiled in the afternoon and ready for full Senate consideration next week.

"We intend to put this to bed here before the end of the day," he told reporters after a committee hearing with senior administration officials marked by outbursts from some Democrats about the so-called fast track bill.

"It's important for America, it's important for the world that we get this done," Hatch said.

The deal between Hatch and the panel's top Democrat, Ron Wyden, to move trade promotion authority in tandem with a bill to extend support for workers hurt by trade is no guarantee legislation will pass Congress, with opponents lobbying hard to defeat it and many Democrats still undecided.

"You bring up TPA in the House today, the best you would have is a handful of Democrats," Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives committee responsible for trade, said at a Bloomberg conference.

Fast track authority restricts Congress to a yes-or-no vote on trade deals in exchange for setting negotiating objectives, laying out how much information is available on draft texts and other ground rules for negotiators.

Introducing the bill this week would send a positive signal about the Trans-Pacific Partnership ahead of a planned visit to Washington in late April by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan and other TPP partners have said having fast track - which gives trading partners certainty agreements will not be picked apart - is vital.

But the bill faces opposition from some conservative Republicans opposed to delegating power to the White House, as well as Democrats worried about the impact on jobs and the environment.

Chuck Schumer, tipped to become the Senate's Democratic leader after the 2016 elections, said he opposes fast track and that it is not fair to rush such an important issue - a point also made by other Democrats on the committee.

"You can't fast track fast track - that's a complete abdication of our responsibilities," said Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, one of several senators who want trade deals to include rules stopping trading partners like Japan and China from manipulating their currencies.

But Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said that could undermine administration efforts to tackle currency issues in other international arenas.

"I don't think it's appropriate for it (currencies) to be part of the TPA; it's not really a set of concerns that are about trade agreements," he told the hearing.

Unions said they would launch an advertising campaign to pressure senators and members of Congress to oppose fast track, starting with digital ads but possibly expanding to TV, radio and newspapers.

Wyden said opponents of trade deals had valid arguments, but urged Democratic colleagues to consider the legislation carefully.

© 2018 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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U.S. senators said on Thursday they could present a bipartisan bill to move trade deals quickly through Congress as soon as later in the day after reaching agreement on aid for workers hurt by trade. The move set the stage for a tough fight with critics.Republican Senate...
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Thursday, 16 April 2015 01:29 PM
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