Does Minority Leader Harry Reid have the votes to throw a monkey wrench into President Barack Obama's trade agenda?
The Nevada Democrat indicated as much to the Huffington Post in an interview published late Monday, though he was not as explicit about his intentions Tuesday morning on the floor of the chamber.
"McConnell said he wanted to move to trade in the next two or three weeks, and I'm going to — maybe he can, but I don't think he's going to have an easy time doing it, because I will not let him do that. We're not going to lay over, as I said, until we have some way to move forward on FISA and the surface transportation bill," Reid said in the Huffington Post interview . "He has some decisions to make and he's going to have to work around me and the caucus."
The push for a restoration of Trade Promotion Authority puts Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other Senate Republicans squarely on Obama's side, with Reid providing the most powerful voice of opposition.
McConnell said on the Senate floor that after adopting the budget resolution conference report Tuesday and then finishing work on a bill from Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., to provide for congressional review of any final Iran nuclear deal, he intended to bring TPA to the floor.
"This bill would enhance Congress' role in the trade process while ensuring presidents of either party have the necessary tools to secure strong, enforceable trade agreements for American workers. Here's why that’s important. Without this bipartisan legislation, American workers and farmers — including from my home state of Kentucky — will not be able to reap the rewards of selling more 'Made in America' goods to places like Europe and the Pacific," McConnell said.
But Reid is making the case for debating an extension of funding for highway programs and a modified reauthorization of surveillance authorities before going to the trade bill, which won bipartisan support in the Finance Committee. If he can convince 40 of his Democratic colleagues to go along with him, he could theoretically filibuster a motion to proceed, preventing McConnell from even bringing the trade measure before the Senate.
"Surface transportation expires ... while we're on recess. The Highway Trust Fund runs out of money, and the authorization for the federal highway program expires later this month," Reid said Tuesday. "It's hard to comprehend, but the Republican majority in the Senate has not held a single hearing on this most important piece of legislation. Not a single hearing. Nothing."
In fact, the Environment and Public Works Committee has held a pair of full committee hearings on the reauthorization of the highway bill this year, as well as several related hearings at the subcommittee level.
"We want to work with Republicans to address our nation's crumbling infrastructure, we understand the importance of transportation investments [to] working families across the country, yet stunningly Republicans have effectively put our nation's transportation system on the back burner," Reid said.
Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch refuted the idea that the sky is falling on surface transportation funding just yet, however. The Utah Republican, who has been working to develop a funding mechanism for a broader reauthorization, said that a patch would likely be needed by July (rather than before departing for the Memorial Day break).
Reid also pointed to the upcoming expiration of surveillance authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that were key components of the Patriot Act. The trio of provisions lapse at the end of the month. The House Judiciary Committee has advanced legislation already that seems to be on the fast track toward the House floor. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Judiciary ranking member Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., are spearheading the companion to that measure in the Senate.
McConnell and Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., have introduced a reauthorization of the programs that would run until almost the end of the next president's first term.
As for Reid's threat to forestall work on the trade legislation, McConnell alluded to that as "an attempt to stand in the way of the bipartisan effort to debate this legislation. We already heard of yet another effort to make a partisan stand against a bipartisan accomplishment that would help grow opportunities for our constituents."
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