Updated 9:21 p.m. | The Senate approved the "fast track" trade legislation by a vote of 62-37 late Friday evening. It was a bumpy ride for the trade bill that endured one filibuster and a contentious amendment on currency manipulation enforcement, but ultimately the bill passed by a wide margin and at a relatively early time.
Updated 7:54 p.m. | In a major victory for the White House, opponents of a currency manipulation amendment to the fast track Trade Promotion Authority bill narrowly prevailed late Friday.
Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., sponsored the amendment, which would have strengthened enforcement against other nations considered to be manipulating their currency. The two senators pushed hard, but narrowly lost, 48-51.
"If this fast track trade bill passes the Senate, it is deeply disturbing that it will not include language needed to protect American workers and businesses," Stabenow said in a statement prior to the vote on final passage. "It’s up to us to decide whether America is leading the race to the top, or if we’re racing to the bottom. Unfortunately, today’s vote is a major step in the wrong direction." The vote on the the Stabenow/Portman amendment was second in a series of votes on amendments, the first of which was to fill the bill with a substitute amendment containing two provisions: TPA, known as fast track, which speeds up consideration of trade deals with Asia and Europe, and TAA, which gives income support and training to workers displaced by international trade.
Prior to the vote, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of the bill's floor managers, warned Senators that "a vote for the Stabenow amendment is a vote to kill TPA."
Later Friday, the Senate voted 61-38 to advance the trade package to a final vote, with up to 30 hours of debate remaining, with the coalition holding together from an earlier test vote. 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, promoted 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.
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