CAPITOL HILL —
The U.S. Senate's leading Democratic promoter of President Barack Obama's trade agenda is dismissing any suggestion that the chamber vote again on trade promotion authority (TPA) that would be stripped of worker assistance provisions the House of Representatives rejected last week.
"Both of these programs are important," said Senator Ron Wyden of TPA and Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). "We got a strong vote in the Senate for a sensible package."
Wyden co-authored that package and helped shepherd it though the Senate.
Now, with the House seemingly deadlocked on the full Senate bill, a tantalizing possibility is being floated by some free-trade backers: have the Senate vote on TPA as a stand-alone bill to match the one trade provision the House managed to approve. Were that to occur, President Obama could sign into law the long-sought ability to submit trade pacts for yes-or-no votes in Congress with no amendments allowed.
Such an outcome would greatly boost prospects for concluding and approving blockbuster trade deals spanning the Atlantic and the Pacific.
The ploy would appeal to many Republicans, a significant number of whom have been lukewarm on federally-funded worker retraining programs from the start.
But the idea is a non-starter for Democrats who, although in the minority, can block legislation in the Senate.
Senator Patty Murray simply shook her head and frowned when asked if she would support TPA without TAA. Murray was one of a dozen Democrats who voted for the original bill containing both.
Wyden said he wants to expand U.S. trading opportunities, but not without a safety net for American workers displaced by foreign competition.
“There are [will be] a billion middle-class consumers in the developing world in 2025, and they will want to buy the Oregon and the American brand," said Wyden, who represents the state of Oregon.
"And TPA will give them the opportunity to better-access the export-related products we make that pay better. Wages are the top issue of our time, and that’s why I am for it [TPA]. TAA is also extremely important - that set of opportunities for workers in an ever-changing global economy: skills and training and access to healthcare. I think it’s critical that the House find a path to move ahead.”