Tags: Barack Obama | Tom Cotton | fast-track | trade | exports

Senate Trade Vote Highlights Rift Among Republicans

By    |   Saturday, 23 May 2015 06:30 AM

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said Friday that he voted to give President Barack Obama fast-track authority to negotiate foreign trade deals because it would increase exports from both the United States and his home state and would "ensure that the president's trade negotiations occur in a transparent manner."

"Trade promotion authority is a valuable economic tool, but it is important for Congress to retain oversight of the administration's negotiations," the first-term Republican said. "This legislation allows for both.

"Most importantly, it ensures that products produced or grown in Arkansas have increased access to world markets," Cotton said.

But Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions slammed the bill because it would further destroy U.S. jobs and lacks strong provisions to hold foreign companies accountable for violating international trade law.

"Stubbornly, our political elites have treated trade as a matter of religion," Sessions said. "To them, there is no such thing as a bad deal. They know American workers lose jobs when we allow trading partners to cheat. But they insist it is all for the greater good.

"We have allowed state-dominated and mercantilist trading partners to maintain their varied and elaborate non-tariff barriers, exporting their unemployment to our shores.

"This is why the American worker keeps ending up on the losing end," Sessions said.

These differences among the two Republican senators illustrate the tense debate over two weeks surrounding the trade authority legislation that the Senate passed 62-37 late Friday as the chamber neared the start of its Memorial Day recess.

The vote cleared the way for a highly unpredictable summer showdown in the House. The lower chamber has not yet debated the bill.

The legislation would allow President Barack Obama to complete trade deals that Congress could approve or reject but not change. The White House would have to publish details of any agreement at least 60 days before any congressional vote.

Obama is seeking to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with Japan and 10 other Pacific nations — and the legislation, known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), was considered critical to his second-term agenda.

Forty-eight Republicans joined Cotton in supporting the legislation. They included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, John McCain of Arizona, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Tim Scott of South Carolina.

"This has been a long time coming," Hatch said as the bill headed to a final vote. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he co-sponsored the bill with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. "I've been working on this bill for the past four years.

"This is an important bill," Hatch added. "It shows that when the president's right, we will support him."

Two announced GOP presidential candidates supported the bill: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Another declared candidate, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, opposed the legislation.

Other Republicans siding against the bill were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Lee of Utah, and Richard Shelby of Alabama. GOP Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming did not vote.

Only 14 of 44 Democrats backed the bill — and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren led the charge, openly warring with the White House and exposing raw wounds between her and Obama.

They also argued that the bill would send jobs overseas and does not address minimum-wage issues or guard against foreign sweatshops.

To mollify Democrats, however, the legislation included $1.8 billion in retraining funds for U.S. workers who lose their jobs because of exports. Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake argued that the funds duplicated other federal efforts, but his attempt to strip out the funds was defeated, 53-35.

In addition, an amendment that would have punished countries for manipulating their currency failed narrowly, 51-48, several hours before the bill cleared.

Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who backed the trade bill, and Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who opposed it, had proposed the amendment.

They sought to make allegations of currency manipulation subject to the same "dispute settlement procedures" as other obligations under any trade deal.

Before leaving for the holiday recess, the Senate was also expected to vote early Saturday on whether to renew the Patriot Act, which was signed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and authorized the National Security Agency's controversial metadata collection programs.

The Senate trade bill must be debated by the House, where many conservative Republicans and Democrats are expected to oppose it for many of the same reasons as those in the upper chamber.

Still, House Speaker John Boehner praised the Senate for its work.

"Trade helps create good-paying American jobs, so it's good news that the Senate has put us one step closer to eliminating trade barriers," he said. "These reforms have the support of farmers, manufacturers, small-business owners, and Americans from all walks of life, and it’s not hard to figure out why. It is a no-brainer.

"The House will take up this measure, and Republicans will do our part, but ultimately success will require Democrats putting politics aside and doing what's best for the country," Boehner said. "Let's seize this opportunity to open new doors for the things Americans make and the people who make them."

McConnell said the vote proved that "Republicans and Democrats can stand strong, together, for the middle class. It's yet another example of a new Congress that's back to work on behalf of the American people."

Georgia Sen. David Perdue cited the legislation's strong oversight provisions.

"This trade tool adds more transparency and accountability than ever before," he said. "It guarantees that Congress has all the information needed to make an informed up-or-down vote on any trade agreement with strong oversight measures.

"If President Obama does not follow the strict procedures put in place, Congress can completely strip his negotiating authority," Perdue added. "Ultimately, TPA keeps Congress in control of all trade deals and holds the Obama administration accountable every step of the way."

But Sessions argued that the bill left Congress with no ability to change any agreements negotiated by the White House.

"Under fast-track, Congress transfers its most basic legislative powers to the executive branch for six years," he said. "Any yet-unseen global pacts, no matter how sweeping, are guaranteed a 'fast-track' to congressional adoption.

"No amendments. No ability to strike any offending provision, and no chance to apply either the 60- or 67-vote thresholds used for important legislation and treaties."

During the two weeks leading up to Friday's vote, Sessions said he asked Obama specific questions about how the fast-track authority would affect U.S. jobs, wages and trade deficits.

"He would not answer," the senator said. "The bill's promoters also refused to answer when asked whether their proposal would reduce net manufacturing jobs in the United States. That is because they know it will."

Citing the 2011 trade deal the United States signed with South Korea, "which doubled the our trade deficit after promises of a trade renaissance," Sessions charged that "this proposal will further widen our trade deficits and eliminate jobs."

"The Trans-Pacific Partnership opens our markets to foreign imports but allows foreign countries to continue closing their market to ours."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton said Friday that he voted to give President Barack Obama fast-track authority to negotiate foreign trade deals because it would increase exports from both the United States and his home state and would "ensure that the president's trade negotiations occur in . . .
Tom Cotton, fast-track, trade, exports
Saturday, 23 May 2015 06:30 AM
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