Congress passes Africa trade bill

Last week, Sen. Tom CoburnTom CoburnRyan calls out GOP in anti-poverty fight The Trail 2016: Words matter Ex-Sen. Coburn: I won’t challenge Trump, I’ll vote for him MORE (R-Okla.) said he opposed passing the bill without improving the way the benefits were paid for. Coburn demanded and got a vote on his proposal to take the $200 million cost of the bill out of areas related to trade, but the Senate rejected that amendment on a 40-58 vote. 

As it stands, the bill pays for a three-year extension of trade benefits for African countries by boosting customs user fees over 10 years. Coburn objected to stretching out the pay-for over so many years.

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“It’s kicking the can down the road,” Coburn said. “I’m for the AGOA package, but I want to pay for it … we need to pay for what we’re doing now.”

Three Democrats voted for the Coburn amendment — Sens. Jim Webb (Va.), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillSenate Dem: You can say Trump and his 'friend' Putin founded ISIS Sunday shows preview: Trump's tough week McCaskill blasts Gingrich for comparing Trump to Truman MORE (Mo.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenator responds to criticism of daughter's EpiPen company The Hill's 12:30 Report Dem Senate candidate: Toomey 'playing politics' with guns MORE (W.Va.) — but several Republicans voted against it.

The bill also makes technical corrections to the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement, and renews presidential authority to apply import sanctions against Burma. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellJohn McCain: No longer a profile in courage McConnell: Senate won't take up TPP this year Barack Obama is the founder of Donald Trump MORE (R-Ky.) said he had a strong interest in seeing the Burmese sanctions end. 

“We’re renewing despite great progress be that’s been made in that country in last year and a half,” McConnell said Wednesday. 

The GOP leader said he agrees with Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonBreitbart mocks Clinton with tinfoil hat Majority of Republicans say Trump should release his tax returns Group condemns Trump campaign CEO for 'anti-Catholic' remarks MORE’s recommendation that President Obama waive the sanctions as a reward to the progress made by the country to become more democratic.

The House passed the same trade package, H.R. 5986, on Thursday by voice vote. Under the legislation, provisions that allow African countries to export textiles and apparel to the United States duty-free using fabric from third countries would be extended through September 2015.

Under current law, those benefits expire this September. The bill would also make South Sudan exports eligible for preferred treatment.

The administration applauded the passage of the package.

“Today’s action in both chambers of Congress means protection for not only the 2,000 Americans whose jobs depend on this legislation, but also for thousands of African workers," said U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk. "President Obama is ready to sign this legislation as soon as it reaches his desk." 

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert MenendezConfirm Julien Neals for the district of New Jersey Puerto Rico task force asks for help in charting island's economic course Tim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense MORE (D-N.J.) said he had concerns about the impact of duty-free imports on U.S. textile workers.

“I believe that trade is important … but at the same time I am concerned about retaining the cotton and wool trust funds,” Menendez said on the floor Tuesday. “I’m just making sure our trade is not only free but fair.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidMcConnell: Senate won't take up TPP this year Politicians can’t afford to ignore Latinos Trump poised to betray primary supporters on immigration MORE (D-Nev.) assured Menendez that he and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax BaucusGlover Park Group now lobbying for Lyft Wyden unveils business tax proposal College endowments under scrutiny MORE (D-Mont.) would work with him to extend the wool and cotton trust fund, which ensures that U.S. companies don’t have a disincentive for using U.S. grown cotton and wool. Currently, importing cotton from other countries, such as China, is duty-free. Reid used the example of the U.S. Olympic uniforms being made in China to save money as an example of why the current situation is a problem.

“I support the wool and cotton trust funds,” Reid said. “It’s such a shame that our athletes are over there competing in the Olympics are in clothes made in China … I’m happy to work with Sen. Menendez and Chairman Baucus, and we’ll work on this commitment this year.”

That pledge to reinstate the cotton and wool trust funds this year was enough for Menendez to say he would not object to the trade bill.

— this article was updated at 1:10 p.m. to add Kirk's comment.

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