The U.S. Senate Finance Committee voted on Tuesday to approve the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, moving the revamped North American trade deal a step closer to a final Senate vote that could take place before the end of the month.
In a show of broad bipartisan support, the panel advanced the USMCA implementing legislation by a 25-3 vote, opposed only by Republican senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Click here to view the entire hearing.
Objections to the USMCA
Sen. Pat Toomey, a staunch free-market advocate, reiterated his long-standing opposition to the revamped NAFTA over concerns that provisions to periodically sunset the deal and tighten origin rules for automobile supply chains actually diminish trade and investment opportunities for American businesses. Predicting that “we’ll get no economic growth out of this,” the USMCA was, Toomey declared, “the first time we’re ever going to go backwards on a trade agreement.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy opposed the deal because it would alter investor protections by preventing many U.S. oil and gas companies from being shielded from arbitrary government decisions in Mexico. Interestingly, Cassidy issued a statement just last month saying the deal “will directly benefit Louisiana’s farmers and manufacturers, allowing them to build on the success of our national economy,” adding that “I look forward to this legislation passing.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse voted against the agreement citing the its lack of urgency to address climate change and concerns about lost jobs in his state given that “NAFTA has utterly failed Rhode Island,” according to a press release from his office.
Next Step: Committee Markups
Next week, a number of other Senate committees are scheduled to markup the trade pact, a process that Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley said he expected could be wrapped up quickly, in accordance with the “fast track” procedures that only allow lawmakers to hold an up or down vote on the agreement.
“If it’s some time next week and we don’t have impeachment, this is one of the top priorities,” Grassley said of a USMCA vote on the Senate floor.
Impeachment could suddenly derail efforts to move quickly on the USMCA as the Senate would be forced to initiate the process of President Trump’s trial as soon as it receives articles of impeachment from the House, thereby preventing the chamber from considering any other legislation or nominees in the meantime.
The TPA Clock is Ticking...
The Trump administration submitted the USMCA implementing bill December 13, setting off a clock under the guiding Trade Promotion Authority that requires Congress to approve or reject the deal within 90 legislative days.
The seven Senate committees that will be reviewing the implementing legislation have a maximum of 15 session days to consider the House Bill from the date it was sent over (January 3), after which, it will then be sent directly to the Senate floor. Once on the floor, the Senate is allowed another 15 session days to hold a full vote on the bill, with debate limited to 10 hours split between both sides of the aisle.