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Sessions Relents on Trade Earmark, at Least for Time Being

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) today dropped, for now, his efforts to attach to a trade bill an earmark helping an Alabama sleeping bag company.

Facing bipartisan leadership opposition and little chance of success, Sessions — who for more than a year has blocked passage of the Generalized System of Preferences over the earmark — said: “It may not be worth the effort at this point. I think I’ve had my say, and I’ll be talking with the trade officials some more.”

Sessions is not giving up on his efforts to help Exxel Outdoors by closing a loophole in the law, which is intended to help poorer countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia conduct trade.

“A simple fix would right this wrong. But sometimes in Washington we get so focused on moving the trains on time we don’t stop to look at who is in the train’s path,” said Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Sessions. “For months Sen. Sessions has diligently fought to correct this injustice, and that effort continues.”

According to Miller, Sessions is considering a number of options.

“It’s a question of strategy,” Miller said, explaining that Sessions might lobby the U.S. trade representative to change the rules administratively or pursue stand-alone legislation to modify the law at a later date.

“The Senator remains committed to a just outcome,” Miller added. “And he remains committed to free trade, and its principles, as he has year after year. The question here is whether we will close the China loophole in order to fulfill those principles more fully.”

Last year, Sessions successfully filibustered passage of the GSP reauthorization bill despite the objections of Democratic and Republican leaders, the business community, and the Obama administration.

Sessions continued his opposition this year, and it seemed there was little chance of a resolution.

But then the White House and Congressional Republicans struck a deal to use GSP as a vehicle to pass the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill, a critical job training measure that Democrats and Rust Belt Republicans support.

The agreement was the linchpin for moving forward with the broader trade agenda, including agreements with South Korea and other countries that have been stalled since the Bush administration.

Those deals are strongly supported by Members of both parties, and GOP leaders have made trade one of the central platforms of their jobs agenda.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.

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