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CBC Chairman Concerned Trade Maneuvers Imperil Africa Pact

Butterfield is concerned about what would happen if the AGOA reauthorization bill is amended to include TAA. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation could be a casualty of efforts to stymie Trade Promotion Authority; now, some members fear the long-heralded African Growth and Opportunity Act could fall to the wayside, too.  

As pro-trade lawmakers from both parties in the House and Senate move ahead with an effort to pass "fast-track" negotiating authority Thursday using a complex procedural maneuver, some skeptical Democrats are raising concerns the TPA maneuvering endangers the renewal of AGOA, a multi-nation pact that has long enjoyed bipartisan support.       "We urge you to pass [AGOA] without attaching any unrelated amendments," four influential Democrats wrote Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, in a letter obtained by CQ Roll Call. "AGOA is too important to be used as a bargaining chip to pass unrelated trade legislation."  

The cosigners are Rep. G.K. Butterfield, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rep. Karen Bass, a Foreign Affairs subcommittee ranking member and the lead Democratic author of the AGOA reauthorization; Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; and Rep. Barbara Lee, a co-chairwoman of a CBC working group on poverty and the economy.  

All four are in the CBC, with Lee a former chairwoman of the group.  

The letter comes as the House is poised to pass TPA as a stand-alone measure on Thursday and ship it over to the Senate, which would then vote to clear the bill for the president's signature. The Senate also would put language as a rider in another, tangentially related bill — one that would, among other things, secure a 10-year extension of AGOA, a trade preferences program that facilitates an economic partnership between the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa.  

The House would then have to pass the amended AGOA bill in order to protect that initiative as well as TAA, which provides resources to retrain American workers displaced by international trade agreements.  

House Democrats have historically championed TAA, but the problem now is progressives don't like the current iteration as written, contending it contains some harmful spending cuts and doesn't do enough to protect public employees hurt by global trade. One hundred and forty four Democrats voted against it last week and would gladly do so again.  

Even with the popular AGOA attached, there's no guarantee enough Democrats rally to save the TAA on a second vote.  

North Carolina's Butterfield, Minnesota's Ellison and Californians Bass and Lee did not explicitly say the TAA language was a nonstarter for them if confronted with having to vote a second time on AGOA. But it's clear the four Democrats are wary of efforts to use AGOA to make TAA easier to swallow.