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Currency Amendment Could Derail 'Fast-Track' Deal

Portman wants tougher enforcement of currency rules in the proposed trade deal. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Supporters of the Senate's "fast-track" trade bill that will be voted on sometime Friday are taking seriously the threat of one amendment they fear will derail the whole thing.  

The amendment offered by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., would strengthen enforcement against other nations considered to be manipulating their currency, which could tip trade deals in the offender's favor. The currency measure has been fiercely opposed since it was first proposed in committee. Even on Friday, as a possible deal on amendments to the Trade Promotion Authority bill seemed imminent, the currency measure was being attacked on all fronts.  

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., warned on the Senate floor that the auto industry had been lobbying his office, and possibly others, to support the currency amendment, “looking for another bailout.”  

“They will have a competitive advantage,” Corker said. “But I hope as a body we will rise above giving another bailout, another bailout to the auto industry." Corker said the Portman/Stabenow amendment would complicate White House efforts to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Pacific Rim deal at the heart of the debate.  

The fear among many is that the currency enforcement would discourage key potential TPP trade partners, such as China and Japan, from joining.  

In a letter to senators earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew wrote that he would recommend a presidential veto of the fast-track bill if the currency provision made it through Congress.  

House Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., reiterated in a statement Friday that the amendment would drive away trade partners, and “would lead to a currency war, undermine our independence in monetary policy, and threaten our standing as the world’s reserve currency.”  

“That’s why the Treasury Department has recommended a veto ... if the amendment is adopted, and why I’m so firmly opposed to it,” wrote Ryan.  

Ryan and others, like Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, promote another amendment offered by the trade bill’s floor managers, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, which would direct the administration to “establish accountability through “enforceable rules” and other means to “address” exchange rate manipulation.  

Cornyn said on Friday that his hope and expectation is the Portman/Stabenow amendment would not pass, noting the problems it creates for the House and White House.  

“For those of us who want to see a TPA pass, it’s an additional burden that we really don’t need,” Cornyn said.  

Also Friday, a proposal was being floated that would set up more than a dozen votes on amendments to the trade legislation and allow for all the post-cloture time to be yielded back on the underlying bill if cloture is invoked.  

The Portman/Stabenow amendment was included, as was an amendment from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to audit the Federal Reserve, but not an amendment fighting  the Agriculture Department's catfish inspection program proposed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.  

Related: McConnell Says Senate Could Finish Friday ‘With Cooperation’ (Video) Trade Deal Tees Up Export-Import Bank Vote The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.