Senate Leaders Said to Reach Deal on Fast-Track Trade Measure

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U.S. Senate leaders have agreed on a deal to advance President Barack Obama’s legislation to speed approval of trade agreements, a Republican leadership aide said, following a one-day rebellion by Democrats.

The Senate will hold separate votes on other bills sought by Democrats, including one to prevent currency manipulation, said the aide. Some of the votes may come as early as today. On Tuesday, a revolt by Democrats denied Senate Republicans enough votes to advance Obama’s legislation to speed approval of foreign trade agreements.

“There’s plenty of support for passing the four major elements,” said Delaware Senator Tom Carper, the only Democrat who voted Tuesday with Republicans to advance the trade bill. “Whether we combine them together or sequence them one way or another, the will is there,” he said. “It’s hugely important to our country.”

Democrats have been insisting that the Senate package the trade bill with three other proposals, including one that would let the Commerce Department penalize imports from nations that manipulate their currencies.

The currency measure pushed by Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, is opposed by the Treasury Department. Considering it separately may ease the way to passing the trade bill Obama wants.

Schumer has repeatedly pushed for stronger action against countries -- notably China -- that drive down the value of their currencies to make exports more competitive.

Customs Bill

In his latest bid, Schumer inserted into a customs bill a provision that would let the Commerce Department penalize imports from countries that manipulate exchange rates.

The Treasury Department opposes the Schumer provision, arguing it would expose the U.S. to retaliation and could violate U.S. obligations under existing trade agreements. Treasury prefers to address currency issues in other talks, led by finance ministers.

Tuesday’s defeat was a temporary setback to the administration’s trade agenda and Obama’s hopes to close the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and submit it to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments.

House Speaker John Boehner called Tuesday’s Democratic revolt a “little bump in the road” and predicted Congress will ultimately have enough votes to pass the measure.

“I’m hopeful the Senate will act soon,” Boehner told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. “And when the Senate does, I expect we will act shortly thereafter.”

Trade Representative

Former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told Bloomberg reporters and editors in a meeting Wednesday that Democratic opposition to the trade legislation isn’t strong enough to prevent it from passing this year.

“I think there are enough Democrats who get it, who want to support the president,” said Kirk, Obama’s first trade ambassador.

Both aides earlier Wednesday expressed optimism that the Senate has the votes to pass the trade bill if leaders could agree on a plan. Tuesday’s vote to advance the trade measure fell short, 52-45, with 60 needed.

Earlier Wednesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, urged Democrats to stop blocking the bill.

‘Serious Discussion’

“We want to have a serious discussion,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. “We want to actually get a good policy outcome.”

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said that Democrats were acting out of concern for middle-class Americans. The four bills were approved by a committee together, and “it’s only logical” that they be considered together on the Senate floor, said Reid, a Nevada Democrat. Reid opposes the fast-track trade measure.

The loss was a rebuke for Obama, who in recent weeks has been in meetings, on the telephone and in personal appeals seeking every possible Democratic vote.

Also on Wednesday, a U.S. official said the Obama administration expects to see additional support in Congress on trade promotion authority legislation as more terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement are made final.

The administration is close, and getting closer, to completing the trade deal and will continue to move ahead on the next round of negotiations, which will take place in Guam May 15-24, said the official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity citing policy.

U.S. negotiators are working on separate sections to boost environmental protection and aid small- and medium-sized businesses, the official said.

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