WASHINGTON – A day after Senate Democrats dealt President Obama a blow to a foreign trade agenda that he wants as part of his legacy, Democratic leaders struck a deal with the Republican majority that would allow debate on a critical piece of that initiative.
Republicans will allow votes Thursday on controlling currency manipulations by foreign countries and on providing trade preferences to certain African countries.
After that, the Senate will vote whether to discuss bills dealing with retraining displaced U.S. workers and granting Obama trade promotion authority.
That authority would give White House negotiators power to reach agreements for the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership while allowing the House and Senate a time-restricted up-or-down vote on the final agreement with no chance to amend the deal.
On Tuesday, Democrats blocked debate on trade promotion authority, saying they needed guarantees that all trade measures recently approved by the Senate Finance Committee would be voted on.
Minnesota's U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both voted against allowing debate on trade promotion, which is also known as fast track. Each cited potential U.S. job losses and a lack of enforcement of earlier trade deals as reasons.
On Wednesday, a Franken spokesman said the senator is still opposed to trade promotion authority and will continue to vote against debate.
A Klobuchar spokeswoman said "the senator continues to have concerns about whether the proposed legislation is strong enough for American workers. The current [trade promotion] proposal does not include important enforcement provisions that are instead included in a separate bill. The senator does not support separating them because it creates uncertainty about whether these provisions, which are so important for preventing the illegal dumping of steel, will be part of the final bill signed into law."
The deal reached by party leaders could prompt a number of pro-trade Democrats to vote for trade promotion, giving Republicans and the president the 60-vote majority they need, not only to debate fast track but to pass it.
Displaced worker support seems likely to pass in tandem with trade promotion, some experts think, but controlling currency manipulation will be more difficult.
Currency manipulation, where countries purposely undervalue their currency to gain an unfair advantage over the U.S. dollar, is a common charge leveled by critics of free trade agreements. China has been especially guilty of the practice, many experts say.
The Obama administration has resisted attempts to make trade promotion authority contingent on guaranteeing currency manipulation language in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.