New Tactic to Get Democrats to Vote for Trade; Tack Steel Industry Aid Onto TAA Bill

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The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Senate Republicans are offering a new incentive to support legislation giving the president expanded trade-negotiating power: help for the beleaguered US steel industry.

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As we reported last week, Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) has passed the House.

New Aid Package

Separate customs enforcement bills also passed both houses and must go to a conference committee now to reconcile their differences, chief of which is that the House version does not have the robust trade remedies that the Senate version features, so the customs bill will not be voted on immediately. Instead, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. Ky.) is instead offering new language broadening the ways steel companies could file and win trade complaints. The customs enforcement provision will still likely find its way to the President’s desk, but not until later.

Packaging Aid With Easier Trade Complaints

The legislative strategy, though, is complex. A number of Senate Democrats would have to cast a procedural vote today on the TPA bill to give Obama and the next president fast-track trade promotion authority. After TPA passes the Senate, the chamber would then vote on a bill that would renew an expiring program to aid workers who suffer from production shifts overseas or import competition. McConnell’s new addition is that looser rules for making trade complaints for steel companies would be paired with the worker-aid bill. This bill is known as trade adjustment assistance (TAA).

The strategy is designed to keep the votes of republican senators, who have favored TAA and TPA since the Bush Administration championed them in 2003, even though they generally would not vote for continuing a large government worker aid package. McConnell is attempting to simultaneously bring in the votes of 11 democrat senators who favor the aid package for displaced workers, but have been skeptical of TPA and TAA, and free trade in general, so far.

The TPA vote is scheduled for today. If both TPA and the customs bill eventually pass, the US steel industry would likely enjoy protections not seen since 2003 when tariffs of 30% on most foreign steel imports lapsed.

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