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Reid Says 'Not So Fast' on Granting Obama 'Fast Track' Authority on Trade Pact

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. is still a "hell no" on taking up a bill granting Obama "fast-track" authority to negotiate a multinational trade deal
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 18, 2014.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 18, 2014. Carolyn Kaster / AP file

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. is still a "hell no" on taking up a bipartisan bill that would grant the White House "fast-track" authority to negotiate a sweeping multinational trade deal — not at least until lawmakers agree to work on transportation and foreign intelligence surveillance bills.

"We have two very complicated issues that I think should have strong consideration before we even deal with trade," Reid told the Huffington Post.

"I'm not willing to lay over and play dead on trade until we have some commitment from them on surface transportation," he said.

President Barack Obama has asked Congress to pass a measure granting him "fast-track" authority so that he can negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership without the risk of a filibuster in the Senate, or any added amendments in Congress.

Lawmakers have been bracing for a showdown on the ambitious trade accord between the United States and 11 South American and Pacific Rim nations known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While some in Congress laud the trade accord as good for the economy, others worry about granting the president the right to request an up-or-down vote in Congress on a trade agreement they say would be bad for American workers.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took to the Senate floor Tuesday morning to say that after the Senate finishes the Republican budget Tuesday, they will then move to finish a bill on a nuclear accord with Iran, after which they will move to the fast tracking measure on the trade accord.

"The American people deserve more opportunities — not more special interest roadblocks," McConnell said, "That's why I plan, with the support of member of both parties, to turn to the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act once we finish the Iran bill."

The Senate is currently scheduled to be in recess the last week of May.

However, not only do certain provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — which prescribes how foreign intelligence is gathered — need to be renewed by June 1st, but transportation funding authorization ends on May 31st

Both issues need to be addressed before Congress leaves for the Memorial Day break.

If McConnell moves to the "fast track" authority on trade bill before dealing with transportation funding or provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as Reid has demanded, the question then becomes whether enough Democrats will support that move.

McConnell will need 60 votes to override what would likely be a Democratic filibuster.

When the bipartisan measure granting the president "fast track" authority on trade was voted out of the Senate Finance Committee last month, seven Democrats joined 13 Republicans to advance the bill to the floor.

"We have three bills that need to be done this work period," Oregon Republican Sen. Ron Wyden, who voted to advance the "fast track" legislation as ranking member of the Finance Committee, told reporters today, "I think in these kinds of instances it's always key for the two leaders to be talking."

— Frank Thorp V