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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is daring Senate Democrats to vote against fast-track trade legislation they supported less than a month ago.

The GOP leader has scheduled a procedural vote on fast-track for Tuesday, and is signaling he’s through offering concessions.

{mosads}The Kentucky Republican believes he’ll get the 11 Democratic votes he needs to move forward because pro-trade Senate Democrats have already gone out on a limb to support fast-track — despite the cries of organized labor and other groups on the left.

McConnell also reasons that the Senate Democrats, having already voted once for fast-track, won’t want to thrust the dagger into President Obama’s prized legislative goal.

“Democrats already voted for TPA. This is what everybody already voted for,” said one Senate Republican leadership aide, referring to trade promotion authority, another name for fast-track.

The Democrats who backed fast-track in a dramatic vote last month are being asked to do so again, but this time for a bill that does not include Trade Adjustment Assistance for workers hurt by increased trade.

The idea is that the TAA program will be added to a separate bill providing preferential access to the U.S. market for African countries. That legislation is supposed to move after the fast-track bill, and the hope is that House Democrats who rejected it the first time as a way to stop fast-track will support it if the fast-track bill is sailing into law.

Senate Democrats have balked at McConnell’s plan to consider the bills separately, and have demanded additional concessions.

So far, the protests have barely moved the GOP leader, who is offering them only one additional sweetener: a bipartisan measure sponsored by Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R) that would empower the Commerce Department to take retaliatory action against foreign countries that violate trade rules. 

The Brown-Portman bill, which would help U.S. steel producers win anti-dumping and countervailing duties on imports to the United States, has been added to the TAA package.

That’s a win Democrats who want tougher enforcement measures, and a win for Portman — a close ally of McConnell — who faces a tough-reelection next year in Ohio, a state with a large manufacturing sector that is vulnerable to foreign competition.

But it falls short of Democratic demands.

They have pushed this week for other concessions, such as adding a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank to the TAA package and boosting the $450 million allocated for TAA.

If pro-trade Senate Democrats vote against fast-track on Tuesday, it might not completely bury the bill, but it would definitely pile on the dirt.

And some pro-trade Democratic aides conceded Friday their bosses will likely vote for both measures next week.

Fourteen Democrats supported fast-track in the May vote. With five GOP defections expected, McConnell needs at least 11 of them on the second vote.

“I think this is probably going to get many members of the 14. Conversations are continuing today and through the weekend,” said a senior Democratic aide.

The 14 Democrats who backed fast-track the first time were Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Tom Carper (Del.), Chris Coons (Del.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.), the senior Democrat on the Finance Committee and a co-author of the trade legislation.

Because McConnell has filed motions to prevent amendments from being added to either the fast-track bill or the TAA package, it’s unlikely other changes will be made to the measures. Doing so would require unanimous consent from all 100 members of the Senate, a difficult task.

The focus of the talks between McConnell and pro-trade Democrats has shifted to providing the latter with assurances that the TAA and Africa package will receive a vote in the House and make it to President Obama’s desk.

Democrats are also pushing for a customs and enforcement bill linked to the other trade measures to become law.

“Obviously the pro-trade Democratic senators have put a lot of effort into making sure all four of these are going to happen,” said Wyden, who along with Murray is leading negotiations with McConnell.  “That’s what we’re looking for.”

The GOP leaders promise the customs and enforcement bill will move soon after fast-track and the TAA package, although the need for a bicameral conference has made the timeline less certain.

“I know there’s a fourth bill too, the Customs bill. Given the complex and thorny procedural processes at work here, we will have to turn to that one as soon as we’re able — but we will turn to it. It will go to a conference committee and then return to the Senate floor where it too will be passed and sent to the White House,” McConnell said Thursday evening.

Vicki Needham and Peter Schroeder contributed. 


Tags Barack Obama fast-track Mitch McConnell Rob Portman Sherrod Brown TPA Trade

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