McConnell pushing Senate Dems to the wall on fast track bill

Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is through offering concessions to Democrats to make it easier for them to vote for the fast track trade authority the president is seeking.  Instead, he will hold a vote on Tuesday that will force Democrats who have supported fast track in the past to vote for it again – this time, without the sweetener of a Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) amendment that would compensate workers hurt by any free trade deal with Asia.

The Hill:

The idea is that the TAA program will be added to a separate bill providing preferential access to the U.S. market for African countries. That legislation is supposed to move after the fast-track bill, and the hope is that House Democrats who rejected it the first time as a way to stop fast-track will support it if the fast-track bill is sailing into law.

Senate Democrats have balked at McConnell’s plan to consider the bills separately, and have demanded additional concessions.

So far, the protests have barely moved the GOP leader, who is offering them only one additional sweetener: a bipartisan measure sponsored by Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R) that would empower the Commerce Department to take retaliatory action against foreign countries that violate trade rules. 

The Brown-Portman bill, which would help U.S. steel producers win anti-dumping and countervailing duties on imports to the United States, has been added to the TAA package.

That’s a win Democrats who want tougher enforcement measures, and a win for Portman — a close ally of McConnell — who faces a tough-reelection next year in Ohio, a state with a large manufacturing sector that is vulnerable to foreign competition.

But it falls short of Democratic demands.

They have pushed this week for other concessions, such as adding a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank to the TAA package and boosting the $450 million allocated for TAA.

If pro-trade Senate Democrats vote against fast-track on Tuesday, it might not completely bury the bill, but it would definitely pile on the dirt.

And some pro-trade Democratic aides conceded Friday their bosses will likely vote for both measures next week.

Fourteen Democrats supported fast-track in the May vote. With five GOP defections expected, McConnell needs at least 11 of them on the second vote.

“I think this is probably going to get many members of the 14. Conversations are continuing today and through the weekend,” said a senior Democratic aide.

Organized labor has already indicated that it will punish any Democrats who vote for fast track, and other liberal groups who oppose free trade have also said they will make any Democrat voting for TPA pay for their support.  But in this case, Democrats supporting fast track are doing so to save what's left of Obama's presidency.  Almost all of the 14 senators who voted a couple of weeks ago for TPA are relatively safe and years away from a re-election campaign.  The anger of organized labor holds no terror for them.

Even if McConnell is successful on Tuesday in passing TPA, the bill still must go back to the House, where its fate is uncertain, given that the TAA will not be part of the package.  Conservative opponents of fast track think they can get a few more Democrats to oppose the measure for that reason, and given how close the vote was the last time – 219-211 – it won't take more than a handful of switches to send TPA down to defeat.

Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is through offering concessions to Democrats to make it easier for them to vote for the fast track trade authority the president is seeking.  Instead, he will hold a vote on Tuesday that will force Democrats who have supported fast track in the past to vote for it again – this time, without the sweetener of a Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) amendment that would compensate workers hurt by any free trade deal with Asia.

The Hill:

The idea is that the TAA program will be added to a separate bill providing preferential access to the U.S. market for African countries. That legislation is supposed to move after the fast-track bill, and the hope is that House Democrats who rejected it the first time as a way to stop fast-track will support it if the fast-track bill is sailing into law.

Senate Democrats have balked at McConnell’s plan to consider the bills separately, and have demanded additional concessions.

So far, the protests have barely moved the GOP leader, who is offering them only one additional sweetener: a bipartisan measure sponsored by Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown (D) and Rob Portman (R) that would empower the Commerce Department to take retaliatory action against foreign countries that violate trade rules. 

The Brown-Portman bill, which would help U.S. steel producers win anti-dumping and countervailing duties on imports to the United States, has been added to the TAA package.

That’s a win Democrats who want tougher enforcement measures, and a win for Portman — a close ally of McConnell — who faces a tough-reelection next year in Ohio, a state with a large manufacturing sector that is vulnerable to foreign competition.

But it falls short of Democratic demands.

They have pushed this week for other concessions, such as adding a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank to the TAA package and boosting the $450 million allocated for TAA.

If pro-trade Senate Democrats vote against fast-track on Tuesday, it might not completely bury the bill, but it would definitely pile on the dirt.

And some pro-trade Democratic aides conceded Friday their bosses will likely vote for both measures next week.

Fourteen Democrats supported fast-track in the May vote. With five GOP defections expected, McConnell needs at least 11 of them on the second vote.

“I think this is probably going to get many members of the 14. Conversations are continuing today and through the weekend,” said a senior Democratic aide.

Organized labor has already indicated that it will punish any Democrats who vote for fast track, and other liberal groups who oppose free trade have also said they will make any Democrat voting for TPA pay for their support.  But in this case, Democrats supporting fast track are doing so to save what's left of Obama's presidency.  Almost all of the 14 senators who voted a couple of weeks ago for TPA are relatively safe and years away from a re-election campaign.  The anger of organized labor holds no terror for them.

Even if McConnell is successful on Tuesday in passing TPA, the bill still must go back to the House, where its fate is uncertain, given that the TAA will not be part of the package.  Conservative opponents of fast track think they can get a few more Democrats to oppose the measure for that reason, and given how close the vote was the last time – 219-211 – it won't take more than a handful of switches to send TPA down to defeat.