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Democrats Push for Trade Sweeteners

Wyden, left, earlier shepherded fast-track through committee, but balked at advancing it on the floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Wyden, left, earlier shepherded fast-track through committee, but balked at advancing it on the floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Senate leaders are determining what provisions to include in a trade bill that is supported by the White House and the Senate majority, but not many Senate Democrats.  

Two bills are expected to be included: TPA, known as fast track, which speeds up consideration of trade deals with Asia and Europe, and TAA, which gives income support and training to workers displaced by international trade.  

But Democrats on the fence are demanding sweeteners, and don’t trust they’ll be able to get them after they’ve signed onto the trade agenda. Among the bills some Democrats want to add are a bill that gives trade preferences to developing nations, as well as a bill that deters the import of artificially cheap products.  

The uncertainty over the language stems from the fact TPA is considered a revenue bill starting in the Senate, so Republicans will have to take an innocuous  House bill and substitute in the trade agreement, according to a Republican aide.  

Republicans are adamant Democratic insistence on including the two additional provisions is counter to what was agreed to in committee. In a markup late last month, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ranking member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., both referred to TPA and TAA being considered as a package, with no mention of the other two.  

A Wyden aide told CQ Roll Call the ranking member will push Republicans for “a guarantee that all four bills will become law,” while Hatch told reporters on Thursday he didn’t expect all four bills to be rolled into one, and while he hates TAA, “it’s the cost of doing business.”  

“I expect that we’ll pass both TPA and TAA and we’ll work on the others,” Hatch said.  

With some Republican defections expected, President Barack Obama, who supports the trade package, has been aggressively trying to shore up congressional Democrats.  

Early last week, Minority Leader Harry Reid, whose position on the trade deal is “Hell no ,” pushed to block the trade deals until the Senate dealt with the expiring FISA and Federal Highway Trust Fund, but relented later in the week as leadership pushed for the four trade bills instead.  

It’s unclear if Republicans will have the 60 votes needed for cloture, as some Democrats are holding out to see if they can get all four bills.  

Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said last week that he didn’t know if there were enough votes for Republicans to invoke cloture, that it “depends on what the package will look like.”  

He said Republican leaders probably stand to lose three to six Republicans and therefore will need as many as a dozen Democratic votes.  

“The key to it is … the customs enforcement/currency,” Durbin said.  

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who has backed TPA, said Republicans risk losing Democratic votes if their concerns aren’t addressed.  

“I don’t think we can get a lot more votes because it’s packaged together, but I think you can lose votes if it’s not packaged together,” Cardin said. “I want to make sure that the worker protections are there, the enforcement’s in there … the trade adjustment assistance is in there…the currency issues, these are all important issues.”  

Promises of future action aren’t good enough for some senators.  

“The president’s not going to stop the TPA bill because of the other bills, so you’ve got to get them all together,” Cardin said.  

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was quick to issue a statement supporting the four bills as one package.  

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., supports the four bills, but according to spokesman Eli Zupnick, “she is talking to her colleagues about the best path forward.”  

Although he said he’s supportive of trade, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has expressed concerns  about TPA, both in writing and on the Senate floor.  

The White House has been pushing for the trade bills, putting it at odds with a faction of the Democratic Party that is generally opposed to trade. In recent weeks, Obama has had a very public feud with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.  

Obama has been increasingly vocal in responding to fellow Democrats critical of his trade agenda, while Sens. Sherrod Brown , D-Ohio, and Warren wrote in a recent letter that some of Obama’s criticism was “dishonest,” and warned fast track could help future presidents, who could be Republican.  

Niels Lesniewski and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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