CAPITOL HILL —
One day after failing to move on President Barack Obama’s trade agenda, the U.S. Senate has reached an agreement setting up key votes to advance a mechanism for approving an ambitious 12-nation Pacific Rim free trade pact.
Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the agreement among Senate leaders and called it “a sensible way forward without killing the bill.”
Under the plan, the chamber will vote Thursday on a measure to crack down on currency manipulation by China and other competitors, along with a trade preference bill to help developing countries. Then, the Senate will once again vote to begin debate on Trade Promotion Authority, which would subject trade accords to up-or-down votes with no amendments allowed.
Tuesday, Democrats blocked consideration of TPA, demanding assurances that other trade-related proposals, like assistance for displaced American workers, be part of any trade package that emerges from the chamber.
McConnell said the worker assistance provision would be merged with TPA, which is strongly backed by America’s business community and fiercely opposed by labor groups and environmentalists.
The Senate’s top Democrat, Minority Leader Harry Reid, said he remains opposed to so-called “fast-track” legislation facilitating the approval of trade pacts, but praised the accord to move forward on the legislation.
“This is a complex issue, one that deserves a full and robust debate,” said Reid.
Another Democrat, Ron Wyden, who co-authored the TPA bill, described the effort as “trade done right.”
“Vigorous trade enforcement has got to be in the forefront, not in the rear. The 1990s NAFTA trade playbook is being set aside,” said Wyden.