POLITICS: PennAve

Harry Reid says no to fast-track authority on trade deals

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to put the brakes on a push to give the White House authority to fast-track free trade deals, putting himself at odds with the administration and many in his own party.

The Nevada Democrat's stance also pours cold water on two pending major free trade deals with European Union and Asia-Pacific region countries the administration is eager to sign.

"I'm against fast-track," Reid bluntly told reporters at the Capitol. "I think everyone would be well advised just to not push this right now."

At issue is a bipartisan Senate bill that would restore "trade promotion authority" to the White House, a move that allows Congress to approve -- but not amend -- trade deals the president negotiates with other countries.

Congress granted the authority to President George W. Bush in 2002, but it expired five years later and hasn't been renewed since.

Presidents, as well as foreign countries, like fast-track authority because trade agreements aren't subjected to last-minute changes by Congress, a process that can delay or kill the deals.

President Obama, during his State of the Union address, called for the restoration of the authority, saying it will "open new markets to new goods stamped 'Made in the USA.' "

"China and Europe aren't standing on the sidelines. Neither should we," he said.

Reid's reluctance to go along with granting the executive privilege is a rare public rift with Obama. It also highlights a lack of unity on the issue among Senate Democrats.

Many in Congress are uneasy about ceding authority to the White House, with members of both parties, as well as labor unions, fearful that big international trade deals can result in jobs being shipped overseas.

"These new trade agreements -- whether it's the Asia-Pacific, whether it's starting with fast-track -- they don't serve our country well," Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democratic from union-heavy Ohio, told NPR.

Reid stopped short of saying he would prevent a vote on the fast-track bill, which is sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and supported by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who likely would take over the panel if Baucus is confirmed as the next U.S. ambassador to China.

"Everyone knows how I feel about this. Sen. Baucus knows. Sen. Wyden knows. The White House knows. So we'll see," Reid said.

Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said denying the president fast-track authority would be the "kiss of death" to the pending trade deals with Europe and Asia -- unless Republicans regain control of the Senate in the November elections.

"Hopefully, with a different Senate majority next year, we can take up and reap the benefits of enhanced trade and the sale of our goods and products," said Cornyn, the Senate's No. 2 Republican.

"I don't see any of those trade agreements going anywhere as long as Sen. Reid is in his current frame of mind."

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