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Posted at 3:09 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2014
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not a fan of trade promotion authority, also known as fast track, and doesn’t rule out keeping it off the Senate floor.
“I’m against fast track,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters after meeting with Lilly Ledbetter, who is the namesake of a law allowing women to sue employers for discrimination long after the discrimination has occurred.
“Everyone knows how I feel about this,” including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who has been tapped to be ambassador to China, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as well as the White House, Reid continued.
Asked if he would block action on the issue Reid said, “We’ll see.”
“Everyone would be well advised not to push this right now,” Reid said.
His comments come after 12 Senate Democrats wrote to him earlier this month opposing fast track authority, and seeking greater congressional influence over future deals.
President Barack Obama pointed to fast track authority in his State of the Union speech last night as an area of potential bipartisan cooperation.
Republicans were receptive.
“I think I was the first one to stand up in the hall when he talked about that,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said after the speech. “I think it’s important that he talked about it, because Democrats need to know that he’s going to provide them some political cover for that vote, and it’s critical for our country.”
“We haven’t had the ability to negotiate agreements now for seven years. That’s put us on the sidelines. He did mention that,” Portman said, pulling his notes from the speech out of his jacket to emphasize that he noted the endorsement of trade promotion authority, or TPA.
TPA is an authority given to the president by Congress to negotiate trade deals with foreign governments, which Congress must either approve or reject, with no ability to amend or filibuster the deal. TPA expired in 2007 for future deals.
Meanwhile, Reid indicated that Democrats would seek to pass pay equity legislation this year.
“It’s really unfair in this modern world that women aren’t paid as much as men,” Reid said.
Democratic aides said Democrats also plan to consider college affordability legislation as well as a bill to increase the minimum wage.
The measures are expected to be resisted by Republicans, who say Democrats are pushing to use them as ammunition in the November elections. The GOP only needs to win six seats to take back control of the Senate.
Reid also said he plans to revisit an extension of unemployment insurance next week with a new offset. The proposal is expected to be a three-month extension offset by “pension smoothing” that would allow companies to reduce deductible pension contributions in the near term, increasing their taxable income and raising federal revenue.
Democrats had sought to extend unemployment insurance for 11 months and offset the $17 billion cost by adding another year to automatic spending cuts, known as the sequester, through fiscal 2024.
But the proposal failed to gain traction after an agreement could not be reached on what, if any, amendments would be offered.