Congress passes Africa trade bill

Last week, Sen. Tom CoburnTom CoburnCoburn: I haven't seen 'self-discipline' from Trump McCain: No third-party foes coming for Trump Tough choice for vulnerable GOP senators: Embrace or reject Trump 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.

ADVERTISEMENT
“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 McCaskillThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief McCaskill: I wonder if people voting for Trump are embarrassed VA opposes bill aimed at helping vets in mustard gas experiments MORE (Mo.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Overnight Energy: Volkswagen reaches .7B settlement over emissions Senators rally for coal miner pension fix 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 McConnellOvernight Healthcare: Dems dig in over Zika funding Business groups ramp up pressure to fill Ex-Im board Senate Dems: No August break without Zika deal 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 ClintonAFL-CIO head: Trump’s ‘a fraud’ Sanders skirts Biden's claim that he'll endorse Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: DNC hacker Guccifer 2.0 speaks out 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 MenendezOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Menendez rails against Puerto Rico bill for 4 hours on floor Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate narrowly rejects expanding FBI surveillance powers 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 ReidOvernight Finance: Obama signs Puerto Rico bill | Trump steps up attacks on trade | Dodd-Frank backers cheer 'too big to fail' decision | New pressure to fill Ex-Im board Iowa poll: Clinton up 14 on Trump, Grassley in tight race with Dem Lynch meeting with Bill Clinton creates firestorm for email case 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.

More in Finance

House passes bill to ban IRS from collecting donor information

Read more »