USMCA Advances to Full Senate After Committee Approval

The Senate Finance Committee approved sending the U.S.–Mexico–Canada trade agreement to the full Senate in a 25–3 vote on Jan. 7.

Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) voted against advancing the bill.

Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), during the hearing on the trade deal, called it “one of the most important pieces of legislation we can do this year.”

USMCA will bring much-needed certainty and real benefits to America’s farmers, workers, and businesses. Farmers are getting better and more reliable market access, which farmers badly need. Workers will see thousands of new jobs, particularly in high-wage manufacturing industries. Businesses will have an agreement that reflects the realities of modern commerce, including for the $1.3 trillion U.S. digital economy,” Grassley said.

“There are some aspects of this bill that I don’t particularly like, but as I reflect on how we got here, I’m proud of the hard work of many individuals that made it possible to achieve a strong agreement and a bill that could garner broad support.”

Deputy Prime Minister of Canada Chrystia Freeland (L), Mexico’s top trade negotiator Jesus Seade (C), and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sign an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement, at the national palace in Mexico City on Dec. 10. 2019. Observing from behind are (L–R) Mexico’s Treasury Secretary Arturo Herrera, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico’s Labor Secretary Maria Alcalde, and the President of the Mexican Senate Ricardo Monreal. (Marco Ugarte/AP Photo)

Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said the Trump administration’s initial USMCA bill “looked like more of the status quo” regarding enforcement. Still, he and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) pushed the House to include putting regulators on the ground to help identify when factories in Mexico violate labor rules.

“The enforcement process will take a fraction of the time it has in the past. No more forcing American businesses and workers to wait around for what seems like eons, while trade cheats rip them off,” Wyden said.

Toomey said the North American Free Trade Agreement was only renegotiated because the Trump administration wanted to fix a trade deficit with Mexico.

While he supported modernizing trade with Canada and Mexico, Toomey said that some of the changes “are meant to diminish trade and investment. And this, my colleagues, is what I think is wrong with this agreement.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks while flanked by fellow members during a news conference on the USMCA trade agreement, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 10, 2019. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“It’s the first time we are ever going to go backwards on a trade agreement. The country’s specific rules of origins are completely antithetical to a continental free trade agreement and designed to raise the cost to American consumers of buying Mexican cars,” he said.

The Democratic-controlled House passed USMCA on Dec. 19, 2019, in a 385–41 bipartisan vote, one day after impeaching President Donald Trump in a sharply partisan vote. Democrats said they made substantial changes to the deal, including strengthening enforcement.

While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, he expected to put USMCA on the back burner as the Senate impeachment trial takes place. The trial hasn’t started because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hasn’t yet sent the impeachment articles to the Senate.

Grassley, on Jan. 7, thanked his colleagues, stating: “This is a big bipartisan vote. A reminder that when Congress works together in a bipartisan way, the American people greatly benefit. I want to thank my colleagues again for working with the Trump administration and me and Senator Wyden. I want to thank members of my finance committee trade staff for their very, very hard work.”

“I look forward to a vote on the Senate floor, hopefully soon, for final passage,” he said. Trump is expected to sign the bill if the Senate passes it.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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