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Senate fails to reach deal on trade amendments

Senate fails to reach deal on trade amendments
© Greg Nash

Rank-and-file senators are objecting to a package of trade amendments hashed out by Senate leaders in both parties.

As a result, it looks all but certain that there will not be a deal on amendments to the fast-track trade package and the Senate will only vote on five pending germane amendments.

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If Democrats are upset they’ve been shut out of the debate, they could retaliate by refusing to extend procedural courtesies on timing — which could delay a final vote on fast-track authority until early Sunday morning.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (Ore.), the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee, presented a package of amendments he negotiated with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchOvernight Finance: NAFTA defenders dig in | Tech pushes Treasury to fight EU on taxes | AT&T faces setback in merger trial | Dems make new case against Trump tax law | Trump fuels fight over gas tax What sort of senator will Mitt Romney be? Not a backbencher, even day one Lawmaker interest in NAFTA intensifies amid Trump moves MORE (R-Utah) to the Democratic caucus on Friday afternoon.

Democratic aides said Hatch and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had participated in the talks that produced the package of 21 amendments — which includes the five pending amendments already guaranteed a vote. The 16 amendments that are not already pending would have needed 60 votes each to pass, under the terms of the deal.

Aides say Hatch and McConnell agreed to the package and pledged to circulate it among the rest of their Republican colleagues in order to secure a unanimous consent agreement to vote on it.

But Hatch and Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (Texas) told reporters after a GOP lunch meeting Friday that they were not optimistic that all senators would agree to votes.

“I tried to be accommodating to both sides,” Hatch said. “There’s always somebody who objects so we’re back to where we were.”

Hatch downplayed the likelihood of voting on a package of 21 amendments since the votes on the germane amendments are due to begin at 5 p.m. Friday.

“Let’s face it, we’re not going to debate this all over again,” he said.

Cornyn told reporters, “I don’t think there's going to be an agreed slate. We've been trying.”

It didn’t seem GOP leaders made much of an effort to sell the package to their conference.

One Republican senator said it didn’t even come up for discussion during Friday’s lunch meeting.

Senate aides said Republican and Democratic senators have already raised objections to the package.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has led the Democratic opposition to the trade package, said he was satisfied with the group of amendments hashed out by Wyden and Hatch.

“I’m not going to object,” he said.  

The package includes an amendment co-sponsored by Brown and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), dubbed the Leveling the Playing Field Act, that would allow U.S. businesses to seek redress from the Commerce Department for unfair foreign trade practices.  

Without a deal, the Senate will vote on the five pending germane amendments at 5 p.m. Friday and then vote on the adoption of the Hatch-Wyden substitute, which contains the meat of the trade package, and then vote to end debate on the underlying House shell bill.

Unless senators yield back time, 30 hours of post-cloture time would have to elapse before a final vote on fast-track — early Sunday morning at the latest.