Baucus, Levin split on trade authority

The top House and Senate Democrats on trade are splitting over a new bill that would make it easier for President Obama to negotiate new trade deals.

Trade promotion authority legislation introduced Thursday by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) would expedite consideration of trade deals by making them subject to up-or-down votes in the Senate and imposing timetables for both chambers to consider future agreements.

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Baucus, who President Obama nominated to serve as ambassador to China last month, crafted the bill with GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on Camp’s panel, said he opposed the bill because it doesn’t do enough to ensure a role for Congress in trade negotiations.

“We need strong, vigorous congressional participation,” Levin told reporters Thursday in his Capitol Hill office. “I do not support their proposal and am working with colleagues to develop legislation that fully meets today’s needs in a rapidly globalizing economy.”

A number of other liberal House Democrats also ripped the bill in a rare split with the Obama administration, which backs receiving the “fast-track” authority.

Administrations generally want fast track, which makes it much easier to negotiate with foreign countries, since the trading partners have a better assurance that, once a deal is agreed to, it would not be amended by Congress.

Former President George W. Bush had the authority, which he used to negotiate a series of trade deals. The biggest were with a group of Central American nations and with South Korea, a deal approved by Congress after fast-track authority lapsed under the Obama administration.

“We look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans in Congress throughout the legislative process to pass Trade Promotion Authority legislation with as broad bipartisan support as possible,” the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said in a statement.

The statement avoided a direct endorsement of the new bill but also did not criticize it.

The authority could be important for two deals the administration is now negotiating — one with the European Union and the other with a group of Asian and Latin American countries.

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