Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Wednesday (May 6) morning kicked off the process for Senate floor consideration of a Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill by making a motion to proceed to the legislation, although the Senate is still debating an Iran nuclear bill and is not slated to finish that until Thursday at the earliest.
[Reposted from Inside US Trade | May 6, 2015]
McConnell made clear earlier in the week that he plans to proceed to the TPA bill after the Senate votes on the Iran bill, despite objections from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who wants the Senate to first consider two bills related to highways and national security.
Once the Senate finishes with the Iran bill, it will presumably begin debating McConnell's motion to proceed to TPA. That motion can be agreed to by unanimous consent, a scenario that seems unlikely given fierce opposition to TPA from some Senate Democrats. Alternatively, McConnell can file cloture on the motion to proceed, which would require 60 votes to succeed.
Technically, McConnell made a motion to proceed to an unrelated House-passed bill, H.R. 1314, that he indicated will serve as a “shell” to which TPA will be added. He referred to H.R. 1314 as “the bill we will use for Trade Promotion Authority.” The reason for using the shell bill is that TPA is revenue measure that must originate in the House.
McConnell's comments signal that he intends to insert only TPA legislation into the House-passed shell bill and not three other trade bills approved by the Senate Finance Committee last month. But a McConnell spokesman cautioned that the leader has not made any announcements about how he plans to deal with the other bills.
Moving only on TPA and not the other three bills would be controversial with Senate Democrats. Reid on Tuesday demanded that the three other trade bills, one of which deals with customs and enforcement issues, be packaged into one piece of legislation with TPA in order to ensure they do not get left behind. He threatened that Senate Democrats would block McConnell from trying to bring the bills up separately.
Reid would need to round up 41 votes to prevent cloture on a motion to proceed to the TPA legislation. The Senate Democratic Caucus consists of 44 Democrats and two Independents, and one lobbyist said it is not certain that Reid would be able to garner the support of Senate Democrats who have backed TPA.
McConnell on Tuesday filed cloture on the bipartisan Iran agreement, which is technically an amendment to the underlying Iran bill, as well as the underlying Iran bill itself. The Senate is now in the midst of 30 hours of debate on the amendment, which would mean a vote on Thursday morning if all the time is used.
The Senate would then have to take one more vote on final passage of the Iran bill, which could happen on Thursday if McConnell and Reid reach an agreement to limit the amount of time for debate, according to a congressional aide. If they cannot reach an agreement, it could take a few more days before the Senate votes on final passage of the Iran bill, this source said.