In a speech on the Senate floor today, Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) expressed disappointment after Senate Democrats voted against starting debate on trade policy, including bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation that would reaffirm Congress’s role in international trade negotiations.
“While we agreed that TPA and TAA would have to move on parallel tracks, there was no such agreement with regard to the other bills, only a commitment that we would do our best to try to get all four enacted into law,”Hatch said. “The agreement with TPA and TAA was honored, Mr. President. Both the Majority Leader and I made clear today that, if cloture was invoked on the motion to proceed, we’d file a substitute amendment that included both of these bills.”
Hatch the called on Senate Democrats to chart a path forward to allow debate on trade policy, including TPA:
“I’m still willing to do what it takes to pass these bills, Mr. President. I hope my colleagues will see the light here and come to the table with some realistic alternatives for a path forward. Until that happens, the President is going to have to wait on these trade agreements, as will all the farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and other job creators who desperately need market access and a level international playing field in order to compete,” Hatch continued.
The complete speech, as prepared for delivery, is below:
Mr. President, I want to take a moment to talk about what transpired here this afternoon, because I think it warrants further discussion.
As I stated this morning, with today’s vote, we were trying to do something good for the American people, to advance our nation’s trade agenda and provide good jobs for American workers.
I know people disagree with us on how we intended to get there. That much was clear from the outset.
Sadly, these colleagues were unwilling have a discussion about their disagreements in a fair and open debate. Instead, they voted this afternoon to prevent any such debate from taking place.
Needless to say, I’m disappointed by this outcome.
While we’re talking about trade policy at large, the bill receiving the most attention was, of course, the TPA bill, which is bipartisan, supported by Republicans and Democrats, in both the House and Senate, not to mention the President and his administration. On April 22nd, the bill was voted out of the Senate Finance Committee by a historic vote of 20 to six, with seven Democrats on the committee voting to report the bill.
The bill, which was President Obama’s top legislative priority, by the way, was riding wave a momentum as it headed to the floor. Yet, today, the mere thought of even debating this bill was apparently too much for my Democratic colleagues to bear.
Nothing changed, Mr. President. It’s the same bill we reported out of committee, the same bill we’ve been talking about for months.
The only thing that was different today than just a few days ago was the strategy being employed by the opposition.
As we all know, the TPA bill wasn’t the only trade bill reported out of the Finance Committee in April. We also reported a bill to reauthorize Trade Adjustment Assistance, a bill to reauthorize some trade preferences programs, and a customs and enforcement bill.
A few days before we were to begin the floor debate on trade policy, we heard rumblings from our colleagues on the other side and we started hearing statements from some Senators – including some who had generally been supportive of TPA – that they would only support the pending motion to proceed if they had assurances that all four bills – TPA, TAA, preferences, and customs – would be debated and passed at the same time.
These new demands – brought forward at the 11th hour – were problematic for a number of reasons, most notably because, as reported out of the Finance Committee, the customs bill faces a number of problems both with the White House and the House of Representatives that would prevent it from being enacted into law anytime soon.
I won’t detail all of those problems here today, Mr. President – I think most of my colleagues know what they are. But, I will say that those problems existed from the beginning and we knew about them at the outset.
That is why the Ranking Member of the Finance Committee and I agreed at our markup to move our four trade bills separately.
As one of the principal authors of three of the four trade bills, I want be very clear because there has apparently been some confusion on this point: There was never a plan to move all four of these bills together.
While we agreed that TPA and TAA would have to move on parallel tracks, there was no such agreement with regard to the other bills, only a commitment that we would do our best to try to get all four enacted into law.
The agreement with TPA and TAA was honored, Mr. President. Both the Majority Leader and I made clear today that, if cloture was invoked on the motion to proceed, we’d file a substitute amendment that included both of these bills.
We also made commitments – commitments I had already made – to work with our colleagues to find a path forward on the customs and preferences legislation.
But, that wasn’t enough.
We’ve had numerous discussions regarding alternative paths for the other trade bills.
That wasn’t enough either.
The only thing they’d accept was full inclusion of all the trade bills at the outset of the debate.
Of course, to be fair, some of the Democrats weren’t necessarily insisting that the four bills be part of the same package. Instead, they just wanted “guarantees” that all of them will be enacted into law.
I don’t even know how to comment on that, Mr. President. It is, to put it bluntly, simply absurd to think that a Senate leader can guarantee any bill will become law before a debate even begins. Yet, those were the demands we faced over the last few days. And, though they were obviously impossible, we worked in good faith to try to reach an accommodation.
Even then, there was no path to yes.
Of course, as we all know, the idea for demanding a four-bills-or-no-bills strategy didn’t originate in the Finance Committee. This demand materialized last week and came directly from the Senate Democratic Leadership, virtually all of whom oppose TPA outright. Sadly, it seems they were able to sell this idea to other members of their caucus, including more than a few who should know better.
So, we were never talking about reaching an agreement with people who wanted a path forward on good trade legislation. We’ve been talking about an idea devised for the sole purpose of stopping progress on TPA.
And, at least for today, it appears they’ve been successful.
Once again, I’m disappointed, Mr. President. A lot of work has gone into this effort, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, not to mention the administration.
I, personally, have been at this from the very moment I took over as the lead Republican on the Senate Finance Committee in January 2011.
In January 2014, more than a year ago, I introduced legislation with the former Chairmen Max Baucus and Dave Camp that formed the basis of the bill we had hoped to start debating this week. Both Baucus and Camp were committed to this effort. Sadly, Chairman Camp retired and Chairman Baucus was sent off to China.
When Senator Wyden took over the committee, I worked with him to address his concerns about the bill and that work continued after I took over as chairman this year. Even though I thought some of his proposals were unworkable, I bent over backwards to accommodate his desires because, in the end, I thought it would broaden support for TPA.
Chairman Ryan joined us in this effort and we did all we could to put together a bill and a path forward that both parties could support. And, until the last few days and the advent of these new demands materializing out of whole cloth, I thought we had been successful.
Even after these new demands came up, I did my best to find an agreement, working right up to the vote to find a reasonable path forward. But, apparently, something reasonable just wasn’t in the cards.
Everyone here knows I’m an optimist. I still believe we can get something done, that we can work something out.
I’m still willing to do what it takes to pass these bills, Mr. President. I hope my colleagues will see the light here and come to the table with some realistic alternatives for a path forward.
Until that happens, the President is going to have to wait on these trade agreements, as will all the farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, and other job creators who desperately need market access and a level international playing field in order to compete.
In the future, if we see a sharp decline in U.S. agriculture and manufacturing, and if the U.S. retreats from the world, ceding the Asia-Pacific region in particular to China’s overwhelming economic influence, people may very well look back at today’s events wonder why we couldn’t get our act together.
I certainly hope that doesn’t happen, Mr. President. And, perhaps, in my frustration, I’m being a little dramatic. Still, I have no doubt that some will come to regret what went on here today one way or another.
As for me, I have no regrets. I’ve done all I can to get these important bills across the finish line. And, I’m going to continue to do all I can in the future. Unfortunately, after today, it’s very unclear how many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are willing to do the same.