Reid: Don’t forget about highway funding, surveillance reform

The Senate’s top Democrat on Tuesday urged Republican leaders to make passage of highway funding and surveillance reform a top priority in the upper chamber before the end of May.

{mosads}Although Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn’t repeat the threat he made Monday to block contentious trade promotion authority, or fast-track, legislation until the Senate passes the other two measures, he made clear that the bills must get done.

“Putting critical transportation investments on the back burner is not an effective way to govern,” Reid said on Tuesday.

“I would hope that we can get something done on our highways before we go home for our recess,” he said. “How can we be home in good conscience and say we tried but we couldn’t get it done?”

House and Senate leaders are working on a short-term fix — upward of $11 billion — to keep the Highway Trust Fund flush with cash until the end of the year. Current funding expires May 31.

Reid also wants Congress to pass a bill reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is due to expire June 1.

Reid said the FISA legislation “is another issue that warrants a full debate and deserves the Senate’s close attention.”

“We have a lot to do, and not much time,” Reid said.

On Monday, Reid said Democrats would block a fast-track bill if the Senate didn’t move forward with the other legislation.

Even though he didn’t mention the threat in his Tuesday remarks, a Democratic Senate aide said his comments didn’t represent a step back from Monday’s vow.

Reid said Monday he will not “lay over and play dead” on trade legislation, and feels confident that Democrats will coalesce around the strategy to block the bill if the other legislation doesn’t get passed first.

“We have two very complicated issues that I think should have strong consideration before we even deal with trade,” he said.

“I hope Senate Republicans will help us move these important pieces of legislation without allowing any to lapse,” Reid said.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he would stay on track to complete trade legislation after the upper chamber passes a budget conference report and the Iran bill. The budget conference report is expected to get a vote later on Tuesday.

“Of course we’ve already heard of an attempt to stand in the way of the bipartisan effort to debate this legislation,” McConnell said Tuesday on the floor.

“We already heard of yet another effort to make a partisan stand against a bipartisan accomplishment that would help grow opportunities for our constituents,” he said.

McConnell argued that fast-track, which will help smooth passage of the nearly complete Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), along with other trade deals, will provide U.S. workers with more job opportunities to compete globally.

“This bill would enhance Congress’s role in the trade process while ensuring presidents of either party have the necessary tools to secure strong, enforceable trade agreements for American workers,” McConnell said.

“Here’s why that’s important. Without this bipartisan legislation, American workers and farmers — including from my home state of Kentucky — will not be able to reap the rewards of selling more ‘Made in America’ goods to places like Europe and the Pacific,” he said.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure on a 20-6 vote with seven Democrats supporting the bill. The Senate is expected to pass the measure this month.

Reid said McConnell “has some decisions to make and he’s going to have to work around me and the caucus.”

The trade agenda is a top priority for the White House and last week President Obama made his biggest overture to House Democrats, promising to help stave off any political backlash if they vote to support his trade agenda.

Supporters say a fast-track bill must be in place for negotiators to wrap up work on the 12-nation TPP deal. Two major meetings on the agreement are slated for this month.

Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, who helped craft the trade bill, still wants the Senate to move quickly, especially with TPP talks accelerating.

“Obviously, Mitch McConnell and the president very much want to do it this work period,” he told reporters on Monday. “Export jobs pay better than do non-export jobs. There are going to be a billion new customers in the developing world in 2025.”

Wyden said that Reid has been clear with him about where he stands on trade.

–This report was updated at 1:01 p.m.

Tags Harry Reid Mitch McConnell TPP Trade

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