Senate panel approves trade bill

Senate panel approves trade bill
The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would streamline passage of global trade deals through Congress. 
 
The panel approved, on a 20-6 vote, a long-awaited trade promotion authority (TPA) measure with the support of seven Democrats, sending the measure to the Senate floor, where it will face another tough test in the coming weeks. 
 
The Democrats who voted to approve were Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocratic senator predicts Franken will resign Thursday Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Lobbying world MORE (Ore.), Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Week ahead: Trump expected to shrink two national monuments Live coverage: Senate Republicans pass tax bill MORE (Wash.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress Former New Mexico gov: Trump's foreign policy is getting 'criticized by everybody' Dems put hold on McFarland nomination over contradictory testimony: report MORE (Md.), Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonOvernight Health Care: Ryan's office warns he wasn't part of ObamaCare deal | House conservatives push for mandate repeal in final tax bill | Dem wants probe into CVS-Aetna merger Ryan's office warning he wasn't part of deal on ObamaCare: source Overnight Health Care: Funding bill could provide help for children's health program | Questions for CVS-Aetna deal | Collins doubles funding ask for ObamaCare bill MORE (Fla.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Overnight Cybersecurity: Mueller probe cost .7M in early months | Senate confirms Homeland Security nominee | Consumer agency limits data collection | Arrest in Andromeda botnet investigation Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank MORE (Del.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Comey back in the spotlight after Flynn makes a deal Warner: Every week another shoe drops in Russia investigation MORE (Va.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Schumer downplays shutdown chances over DACA fight MORE (Colo.).
 
 
ADVERTISEMENT
In the most contentious vote of the day, Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him How four GOP senators guided a tax-bill victory behind the scenes MORE (R-Ohio) and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowThe Hill's 12:30 Report Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Democrats to Trump: Ask Forest Service before shrinking monuments MORE (D-Mich.) lost their bid — on an 11-15 vote — to include an amendment in the legislation that would have required the White House to include enforceable currency manipulation provisions in international trade agreements. 
 
Five Democrats — Cantwell, Nelson, Carper, Bennet and Warner — and 10 Republicans opposed the amendment.
 
Portman, a former U.S. trade representative, said the amendment was needed because the “playing field is tilted against us” and it would “allow our workers to compete.”
 
Stabenow argued the Obama administration’s process is “just not enough” to convince countries to make faster progress toward market-driven exchange rates.  
 
After markup, Portman said he will make another attempt at passing the rule in floor debate.
 
The White House has argued that requiring the addition of currency provisions would derail negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and likely jeopardize its passage in Congress. 
 
A Treasury official told the panel the department is “very concerned” adding currency rules to a fast-track measure would be counterproductive and possibly disrupt continuing negotiations. 
 
“We have serious concerns about the inclusion of enforceable currency provisions in this or any trade agreement,” Treasury Secretary Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewSenator demands answers from DOJ on Russia bribery probe Koskinen's role in the ObamaCare bailout another reason Trump must terminate him The debt limit is the nation's appendix — get rid of it MORE told the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday afternoon.
 
Lew has repeatedly asked Congress to tread lightly in pushing for provisions that could, in the end, do more to hurt U.S. workers than help.
 
“Enforceable currency disciplines would impair our already-successful efforts addressing currency practices through our bilateral and multilateral engagement and could grant other countries a legal basis to interfere with the flexibility of U.S. policymakers to take the steps necessary to protect jobs, support growth, and ensure continued price stability in the United States,” Lew said.  
 
In a letter to senators Tuesday, Lew said other trading partners “have made clear that they will not support the introduction of enforceable currency provisions in the context of trade agreements, and specifically, the TPP.”
 
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Utah governor calls Bannon a 'bigot' after attacks on Romney MORE (R-Utah) went as far as to say if the amendment passes, “you could kiss TPP goodbye.”
 
“We’ve come a long way, and while I know the sincerity behind it, I think it makes it very difficult to carry this bill through,” Hatch said.
 
Wyden, the Senate Finance Committee ranking member, said the amendment runs the risk of putting the United States on the side of creating rules for global monetary policy and is “a bridge too far.” 
 
The contentious fast-track legislation has splintered congressional Democrats and put them at odds with President Obama and his bid to push through his trade agenda before he leaves office. 
 
The bill gives Congress an up-or-down vote on trade agreements and doesn’t allow amendments, a process that ensures trading partners that pacts won’t be changed on Capitol Hill. 
 
The Obama administration says the 12-nation TPP would shore up the U.S. economic and strategic presence in the Pacific Rim.
 
“If you want to have influence in Asia you have to pass this TPA bill to ensure that you get a good TPP,” Hatch said.
 
During the markup, Hatch warned lawmakers “to be careful not to amend” the six-year measure, so it wouldn’t differ from the version brokered last week by Hatch, Wyden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees House Republican: 'I worry about both sides' of the aisle on DACA Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids MORE (R-Wis.). 
 
The Ways and Means Committee is slated to mark up the bill Thursday. 
 
The committee also easily approved a Trade Adjustment Assistance bill on a 17-9 vote that Hatch and others say will have to pass each chamber simultaneously. 
 
The panel approved, by a voice vote, a package that includes the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the Generalized System of Preferences and continuing trade benefits for Haiti.
 
The panel also approved on a voice vote a customs enforcement measure that Wyden said includes the “most robust trade enforcement provisions in decades.”
 
The markup was delayed for five hours after Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE (I-Vt.) used a procedural maneuver earlier in the day to stop all committee hearings until the Senate adjourned for the day. 
 
Although Portman-Stabenow failed to gain traction, the panel did approve two other currency amendments that were attached to the customs legislation. 
 
The first, on a 26-0 vote, was an amendment offered by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) that would block a country that illegally manipulates its currency from participating in future trade agreements. 
 
The panel also easily approved an amendment, on an 18-8 vote, an effort led by Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerAmerica isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash Schumer celebrates New York Giants firing head coach: ‘About time’ GOP should reject the left's pessimism and the deficit trigger MORE (D-N.Y.) that would impose duties on products from countries that have lowered the value of their currency against the dollar. 
 
Seven Republicans and Cantwell opposed the Schumer amendment.
 
Notably, Schumer said that after consulting other lawmakers, he decided not to push to include the amendment in the fast-track bill.
 
The House and Senate customs bills are different, so there is no guarantee that the currency provisions will survive through the expected conference process. 
 
In a letter to lawmakers on Tuesday, Lew said the Obama administration opposes current legislation, which is similar to Schumer’s amendment, “that would use the countervailing duty process to address currency undervaluation.” 
 
“The legislation raises questions about consistency with our international obligations, and other countries might pursue retaliatory measures that could hurt our exporters,” he wrote. 
 
Schumer called currency manipulation the “most significant trade challenge this country faces.”
 
He said the Obama administration has sold the TPP as a geopolitical necessity to ensure that the United States doesn’t cede more ground to China in the region. 
 
“It also makes sense, that as part of the overall effort, we also should deal with China head on to show them we will not continue business as usual in our direct trade relations with them as well,” Schumer said. 
 
He argued that TPP alone won’t provide the United States with the tools it needs to combat this specific challenge of currency manipulation,” he said. 
 
“It’s time to do something that might solve this problem,” Schumer said. 
 
The panel approved only one amendment to the bill that would promote human rights to a principal negotiating objective. The amendment was authored by Cardin.
 
The panel also approved, on a 16-10 vote, an amendment by Sen. Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case Menendez jury deadlocked, ordered to keep trying MORE (D-N.J.) that would not allow fast-track for certain countries on the State Department’s list of human traffickers. The list includes Malaysia, which is one of the TPP partners, according to Menendez’s office.
  
—This report was updated on April 23 at 11:33 a.m.