The forecast for the United States Senate is for sunny skies in the near term, with storm clouds on the horizon, according to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The top Republican in the Senate on Sunday said that he has been pleased to find a number of areas where the Republican-controlled Congress, or at least the Senate, can work with a Democratic administration. However, he said, future battles are inevitable.
In an appearance on ABC’s This Week Sunday morning, McConnell promised that a bill giving President Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) – that is, the ability to bring an international trade deal to the floor of both houses of Congress for an up-or-down vote -- will pass the Senate, and quickly.
“We’ll pass it. We’ll pass it later this week,” McConnell told host George Stephanopolous. “The president has done an excellent job on this.”
The TPA bill has been a flashpoint for members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. Many Democrats are adamantly opposed to it because it would allow the president to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal up for a vote without an opportunity for lawmakers to amend it. They are concerned about what they see as a lack of worker protections, environmental safeguards and defense against countries that engage in currency manipulation.
Some Republicans are also reluctant to approve TPA, though for different reasons.
“I point out to my members who are somewhat squeamish, as you can imagine, [about] giving the president power on any issue, given his expansive view of his powers on so many other issues…this is a trade promotion authority not just for president Obama but for the next president as well,” McConnell said. “This is a six-year trade promotion authority bill that will give the next president an opportunity to enter into trade agreements with other countries around the world.”
Passage of TPA is seen by the administration as essential to securing an acceptable deal in the ongoing TPP talks, because the assumption is that the other countries participating in the negotiations will be hesitant to make their best offers if they think the U.S. Congress will be allowed to tinker with the deal after it has been struck by negotiators.
McConnell said TPA is important to the country for reasons that go beyond trade.
“We know America is a big winner when we lower barriers to our products abroad,” he said.
However, he added, “[TPP] also has a foreign policy and defense component. A lot of the countries in Asia are a little apprehensive, as you can imagine, about Chinese economic domination, but also potential Chinese military domination. So they would like to get closer to us, and this is a great opportunity to do that as well as to benefit America and create new jobs here.”
Beyond trade, McConnell pointed out that the Senate has been, in his words, “getting back to work.” The chamber has passed a bill giving Congress a certain amount of oversight over the ongoing talks with Iran about its nuclear program. There are also bills on cyber security and education in the pipeline.
“We’re trying to focus on the things that we can agree on to make progress for the country, even though we know there are many things [on which] we do not agree with the president,” McConnell said. “All of those will probably come to the fore in spending bills. We want to spend more on defense; they want to spend more on everything.”
Pressed by Stephanopolous about his relationship with the president and whether there would be a “bourbon summit” – a reference to a passing comment the president made about inviting McConnell to the White House for a glass of Kentucky’s finest – McConnell reiterated a point he has made a number of times in the past.
He would be happy to have a glass of bourbon with the president, he said, but getting along with Obama has never been a problem for him.
“We don’t have a personality problem,” McConnell said. They just disagree on how to run the country.
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times