While the Senate considers fast-track trade authority, the White House is making a bicameral and bipartisan push to approve the bill as quickly as possible.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told CQ Roll Call Monday afternoon the administration was actively answering questions and addressing congressional concerns from both sides of the aisle, but declined to predict which members would vote in support of the legislation.
“I’ll leave it to you to see the roster of who’s voting for what, but what you should know is that we’re working with everybody,” Pritzker said. The effort was imperiled last week as Senate Democrats pushed to attach currency language to the broader fast-track bill, which already has Trade Adjustment Assistance included as a sweetener for Democrats.
A furious effort by the administration helped revive the bill, while fending off the currency issue. They still have more work to do; Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., have proposed a currency manipulation amendment to TPA, and it's unclear how far that amendment will go.
With the Memorial Day break approaching at the end of the week, the Senate will have to move fast if it wants to finish with trade and get to the expiring Patriot Act and Highway Trust Fund, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed Monday that the Senate isn't going anywhere until trade is done. But the amendments are piling up, with nearly 100 filed by Monday evening.
Pritzker said the administration hopes to get TPA done as "quickly" as possible, and the "cleaner" the legislation, the more it will serve its intended purpose.
"Nobody supports currency manipulation,” Pritzker said. “But the challenge is where do you draw the line between activity that’s necessary to manage your economy and manipulation that’s considered inappropriate?"
Pritzker reiterated the White House’s position that the currency manipulation language should be considered independently.
“Putting enforcement of currency manipulation in a trade agreement is not the right place to address it," she said.
“You need to address it by strengthening the hand of the Treasury Department and making sure that enforcement can occur there,” Pritzker added. “I feel very strong that in the long haul, we don’t diffuse the enforcement or oversight of the U.S. dollar.”
Critics of the administration on trade, like Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., have noted that the administration already has the ability to get tough on currency and has refused to do so.
And President Barack Obama's trade nemesis Sen. Elizabeth Warren laid out her argument for how prior agreements always went wrong. The Massachusetts Democrat issued a new report called Broken Promises, arguing that prior trade agreements fell short of delivering on promises on environmental and labor protections.
"The TPP is being hailed as the strongest trade agreement yet," the reported noted. "But this is not the first time this claim has been made ... this analysis reveals that the rhetoric has not matched the reality."
Pritzker, meanwhile, sought to show off the benefits trade. She awarded 45 American businesses with the presidential “E” Award, which recognizes significant contributions to the expansion of U.S. exports. Some award winners had been in contact with their legislators to push for support of the trade legislation.
Blake Martin, the vice president of international operations for Right at Home International, an Omaha-based company that exports in-home care and assistance services that helps seniors and disabled adults remain independent, said trade agreements would cut back on value-added taxes. Last week his company urged Rep. Brad Ashford, D-Neb., to support trade legislation in Right at Home International’s headquarters.
Peter L. Mastores, president of Volk, a medical device manufacturer that benefits from trade deals by both exporting its product and importing some parts, said their industry in particular has significant red tape to cut through, with the both the FDA and licensing abroad. Mastores said he and others would be meeting with Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, Monday evening.
The other trade-related item before Congress is the Export-Import Bank. Without congressional action, its charter will expire on June 30. House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, is inclined to let the charter expire, while Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has warned an expiration would cost jobs quickly. Pritzker said while many American exporters might not need the bank, it's "critical" in certain industries, and that America would be putting itself at a disadvantage to the 60 other countries have a similar institution by letting the charter expire.
"I've been very vocal about the need for Export-Import Bank, but the political process is being run by the White House and the Ex-Im itself," Pritzker said. "But I have been unwaveringly supportive of the need for renewal."
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