Democrats Threaten to Block Test Vote on Fast-Track Bill

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Democrats in the U.S. Senate are threatening to block legislation sought by President Barack Obama to boost his trade agenda unless they win concessions on companion bills.

“Democrats have asked that four measures be included in the package, but Republicans said no,” said Ben Marter, a spokesman for Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and a bill sponsor, said if Democrats try to block the so-called fast-track trade bill, he’d support pulling it from the floor -- essentially delaying the procedural vote set for Tuesday.

Obama had backed the bill, which would allow him to submit trade agreements for an up-or-down vote in Congress, to help him close a 12-nation deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership and submit it for approval without any amendments.

Keith Chu, spokesman for Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, said 14 pro-trade Democrats met Tuesday and Wyden came out and said he will not vote to advance the bill without a “clear path” to get the four bills that cover trade aid for workers, currency enforcement and other issues.

Senators Patty Murray of Washington state and Mark Warner of Virginia will also vote against the bill without the companion measures, according to one congressional aide who requested anonymity. The Democrats’ move would deny Republicans the 60 votes they need to advance for the measure.

Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, plans a test vote on the fast-track measure later Tuesday, and the Democrats’ move could stall the legislation.

“I understand these allegedly pro-trade Democrats won’t support” advancing the measure, McConnell said just before the vote.

McConnell said he intended to proceed with the procedural vote and lawmakers can offer amendments to the legislation.

“We have some concerns that some president or this president could backdoor China” into the Trans-Pacific Partnership accord without a vote of Congress, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said at a press conference.

Brown said he will push for an amendment requiring a vote by Congress before adding China to the agreement.