Senate to vote Thursday on ‘fast-track’ trade authority

WASHINGTON — U.S. senators reached a deal on Wednesday to move forward this week with legislation key to the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, a day after a Democratic rebellion dealt a blow to the White House’s trade agenda.

A compromise between Republicans and Democrats would set up a vote on “fast-track” trade authority with a worker assistance provision, while two other trade bills, a customs bill including rules against currency manipulation and one extending African trade benefits, would be considered separately.

A procedural vote was set for Thursday on the fast-track authority, enabling a full debate next week on the legislation, which would be twinned with the worker assistance program.

“The plan … will provide our Democratic colleagues with a way forward without killing the bill,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor, following 24 hours of furious negotiations over how to break the impasse.

On Tuesday, all but one of the Senate’s Democrats teamed up to block debate on the legislation, amid concerns about the impact of the TPP on U.S. workers.

Democrats — backed by some Republicans but opposed by the White House — also wanted provisions to punish countries that artificially reduce the value of their currencies to boost competitiveness.

Senate Finance Committee ranking Democrat Ron Wyden said the deal meant customs would be the first bill to be debated.

“It drives home yesterday’s message of 13 pro-trade Democrats who together said robust enforcement of our trade law is a prerequisite to modern trade policy,” he said.

Under fast-track, Congress can approve or reject, but not amend, trade deals negotiated by the administration, including the TPP, a potential legacy-defining achievement for Obama, who sees the pact as part of his diplomatic pivot to Asia.

The battle over the Trade Promotion Authority has exposed rifts between Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a prominent leader of the party’s left wing.

Negotiations on the TPP are nearly complete, but trading partners have said they want to see fast-track legislation enacted before finalizing the pact, which would stretch from Japan to Chile.

That would create the biggest trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement liberalized business between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

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