Washington (CNN) – Despite a nudge from President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address for Congress to renew fast-track trade authority, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday he is unlikely to consider a bill anytime soon.
“I’m against fast-track,” said the powerful Democrat who controls which bills get to the Senate floor. “I think everyone would be well-advised not to push this right now.”
While Reid personally opposes the measure, he did not rule out allowing it to come up in the future.
At issue is a bipartisan bill to extend the President’s “trade promotion authority (TPA),” which lets him negotiate giant trade deals with other nations while allowing Congress only to vote up or down on those deals but not amend them. Most Republicans and big business groups support the bill, believing it will lead to more trade agreements and open more markets for U.S. goods. But many Democrats and union groups oppose it, arguing past trade deals led to job losses.
The U.S. currently has several outstanding trade pacts – including a major deal with the European Union and another with 11 Asian nations. For countries negotiating with the U.S., TPA is seen as the best way to assure a hard-earned agreement will become law without getting picked apart by special interests represented in Congress.
“We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA,’” Obama told Congress Tuesday night.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of the bipartisan authors of the bill, complained the President didn’t do enough to persuade Democrats to support the measure.
“I’ve been underwhelmed at this administration’s support of our bill and extremely disappointed with the efforts they’ve made to get Democrats in Congress on board,” Hatch said Wednesday at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event. “In last night’s State of the Union address, the President barely mentioned his trade agenda. He certainly didn’t call on members of his own party to set aside their differences and support renewing TPA.”
The bill is a priority of Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, a centrist Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee.
Baucus, who was recently tapped to be the ambassador to China, is expected to leave Congress soon, leaving uncertain the fate of trade bill.