North Carolina's Senate delegation has renewed warnings over a proposal to leave the U.S. tobacco industry unprotected in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and one member is warning he could muster the votes to derail the proposed agreement.
It would take only a simple majority to pass legislation approving of any final TPP deal through the Senate, thanks to the revival of Trade Promotion Authority earlier this year, a measure that was the result of common ground between President Barack Obama and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
The Senate voted 60-38 to pass the fast-track authority legislation in June. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a presidential hopeful, missed the vote, though he has supported free trade.
"I think if Sen. Rubio had been in [attendance], he probably would have voted for it, so there were 61 votes for TPA. I think there are easily more than a dozen votes that could go the other way on TPP, if they try to force this precedent," North Carolina GOP Sen. Thom Tillis said in an interview with CQ Roll Call.
Doing the math, if all supporters of TPA otherwise supported TPP, that could bring the deal down below the 50 votes needed to pass in the Senate, with the possibility of a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
But of course given the importance of the tobacco industry to Kentucky, the home state of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, there's no telling if a deal with such a carve-out would get real consideration in the Senate at all.
"Sen. McConnell has said that if we move down the path of a carve-out, that he will be one of the people to lead the opposition. We're talking about a provision in the TPP that's unlike any provision in past trade agreements, at least in recent history, if ever. And it's carving out a specific agricultural product, in this case tobacco," Tillis. "It sets a precedent that we think could be problematic in TTIP and trade negotiations with African countries."
The offices of Tillis and senior North Carolina GOP Sen. Richard M. Burr issued a statement Thursday indicating the United States had proposed such a carve-out provision. Negotiations have been ongoing in Atlanta.
"Over the last seven years, this Administration has consistently picked winners and losers by rigging the rules in favor of the organizations and industries they like best," Burr said in a statement. "Agricultural trade is critical to our nation’s economy and every sector of that industry creates jobs across the board. It is imperative that all of U.S. agriculture is treated fairly."
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