Whenever the Senate's able to vote to limit debate on the pending trade legislation, senators will still have to tackle a tough amendment about currency manipulation.
And the supporters of the amendment, led by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., about the inclusion of enforceable currency provisions in trade agreements, have no reason to make their proposal easier to defeat by agreeing to a 60-vote super majority threshold.
In an interview with CQ Roll Call, Stabenow said she's worked throughout the week to make sure the amendment doesn't fall away without a real vote.
"I'm working this thing every moment on the floor, but the biggest challenge is making sure somehow process-wise on the floor that we don't get blocked and we actually can get a vote," Stabenow said. "At one point, we had to intervene. It reminded me of my farm bill days down on the floor, late night."
As chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, Stabenow was the primary floor manager of the most recent farm policy legislation. After some parliamentary maneuvering late Tuesday, Stabenow felt she and Portman were at risk of being sidelined, leading to conversations with Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch and the parliamentarian's office.
"We could in fact make sure that our amendment was in order post-cloture, and then they would get their side-by-side, but that our amendment was in order," she told CQ Roll Call. "We were ready to bring everything to a halt again, but were able to get that fixed."
"They have to deal with us. We are germane post-cloture at a majority threshold, and so ... they have to vote in some way on our amendment, and we will not agree to a 60-vote threshold because we are germane and it's a 50-vote threshold. That's been my position and I have been objecting," Stabenow said. Stabenow said she parked herself in the cloakroom to make sure there was no agreement that would put them at the higher threshold.
Supporters of getting the bill to revive Trade Promotion Authority through the Senate in a form acceptable to the House Republican majority and the White House have been lobbying hard against the Portman-Stabenow proposal. Stabenow said it was her understanding there were conversations with President Barack Obama going on himself as she was working on the floor.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest outlined the administration's concerns again Tuesday.
"Secretary Lew and other senior officials in the administration, even including the president, have regularly made the case to their counterparts that unfair currency practices should not be pursued, and we have had some success when it comes to China. Their currency has appreciated apbout 30 percent over the last five years or so. That's an indication that the advocacy of American officials has been effective," Earnest said. "But what we have been concerned about, principally, has been the need to ensure that the Federal Reserve here in the United States has the independence and the authority to implement monetary policy in a way that they believe is consistent with the best interest of the U.S. economy. "
For Stabenow and the roughly quarter of the Senate already co-sponsoring the proposal with Portman, to even get to the simple majority vote would require the chamber to invoke cloture, and thus limit debate, on the Hatch amendment that's the language of the trade bill.
And for a rather unexpected reason, the prospect that would be a successful vote appeared in doubt, whenever it happens after extended speech and an attempted filibuster by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over National Security Agency surveillance.
Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., were making a stand (though more behind the scenes than Paul) over reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank beyond the end of next month, an effort Stabenow said she supported.
"Being able to get financing, and know they're going to get paid when they export is absolutely critical," Stabenow said. "For the life of me, I can't understand why people who are promoting a free-trade agreement would want to make sure that our businesses could actually use it."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that while he was against the bank's charter being extended, he would allow it to come up for a vote.
McConnell filed a cloture motion on the Trade Promotion Authority package that should happen no later than 1 p.m. Thursday. Debate on how many amendments to the trade bill stalled out amid objections, many raised by Democrats including Cantwell.
"I think Sen. Cantwell took exactly the right action," Stabenow said, given the position of the House Republicans regarding the Export-Import Bank. "We've got the votes."
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