The Senate narrowly agreed Tuesday to salvage President Barack Obama’s trade agenda, after several Democrats sided with GOP leaders to break a filibuster on standalone fast-track trade legislation.
The vote to advance the bill clears the way for Trade Promotion Authority legislation to become law by the end of the week. The House has already cleared the legislation and final passage is expected in the Senate by Wednesday.
The tight vote came as Democrats wavered on whether to trust Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to follow through on a joint pledge to shepherd into law both the fast-track bill, dubbed Trade Promotion Authority, and a measure to help laid-off workers known as Trade Adjustment Assistance. TPA will allow Obama to complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, but Democrats have long insisted that it be accompanied by TAA, which provides aid and job training for workers who lose their jobs to trade.
“I have been assured that the House and the Senate will take up TAA and the enforcement legislation,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who was concerned as late as Monday that the workers’ aid bill would not pass. “I appreciate the speaker saying he’s going to take it up this week and Sen. McConnell filing cloture on it.”
The Senate already passed a TPA/TAA package in May, but McConnell and Boehner split TPA from TAA after the package could not pass the House. On Tuesday, Democrats sought the strongest assurances possible that GOP leaders will see that fast-track and TAA pass, as well as a customs enforcement bill and a measure to boost trade with African countries.
Top Republicans moved to calm the jittery Democrats on Tuesday morning. Boehner said he “remains committed” to the pieces of the trade package that Democrats want; McConnell came to the Senate floor to declare the same.
“That is what my friends on the other side have said they wanted, and that is what can be achieved by continuing to work together,” McConnell said, pleading with Democrats and Republicans to “keep working together and trusting each other.”
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