Harry Reid Plans To Block Trade Deal Until The Senate Deals With Surveillance Reform, Highway Funding

05/04/2015 05:07 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2015
  • Ryan Grim Washington Bureau Chief, The Huffington Post
  • Jennifer Bendery White House and congressional reporter, The Huffington Post
Mark Wilson via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is putting the brakes on a Senate effort to push through a controversial trade deal, saying that Democrats will block the measure until the Senate deals first with a stalled infrastructure bill and a package of reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA.

"We have two very complicated issues that I think should have strong consideration before we even deal with trade," Reid said in an interview with The Huffington Post, referencing the two measures that are set to expire unless the Senate takes action.

Reid said he has spoken with his leadership team and is confident Democratic senators will stick together to demand the two bills be dealt with before moving to approval for trade promotion authority or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. "I'm not willing to lay over and play dead on trade until we have some commitment from them on surface transportation," he said.

The same goes for FISA, he said, arguing the Senate should adopt a package of reforms in the House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pushed instead for a five-year extension of the current surveillance policy, without any reforms. "I'm not willing to simply let anyone move to FISA without a fight unless I have some idea of what they're going to do with it," Reid said.

TPP is a deeply controversial trade deal with 11 other countries. Critics argue the pact is less a trade deal and more a boon to multinational corporations that drive down wages in the United States. Backers say that if the U.S. doesn't engage with Pacific Rim countries, they will shift toward China and the U.S. will suffer economically.

If the two measures aren't dealt with before trade, they won't get dealt with in time. "I think trade's going to have to wait until we come back" in June, Reid said. FISA expires June 1, while highway funding expires May 31.

Even if McConnell could find 60 votes to move forward on the trade bill without Reid's help, there are currently four separate trade bills set to be debated. Unless they are combined into one, each would be subject to a filibuster, which can take nearly a week each.

McConnell, under current Senate rules, would need some Democratic support to get the 60 votes needed to proceed to a debate on trade.

"McConnell said he wanted to move to trade in the next two or three weeks, and I'm going to -- maybe he can, but I don't think he's going to have an easy time doing it, because I will not let him do that. We're not going to lay over, as I said, until we have some way to move forward on FISA and the surface transportation bill," Reid said. "He has some decisions to make and he's going to have to work around me and the caucus."

In the House, the outlook for Obama's trade agenda is bleak as well. Despite the support of House GOP leadership, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned last week that the votes aren't there.

A majority of Republicans back giving Obama fast-track authority on trade deals, but factions of party members will vote against it. And unless key concessions are made, House Democrats won't back the president, either.

“Another point you should keep in mind is that every Democrat leader in the House and Senate are opposed to giving the president what he’s asking them,” Boehner said. “The president needs to step up his game in terms of garnering more support amongst Democrats, especially here in the House.”

The White House has lobbied Congress more intensely on this issue than any other during Obama's presidency, according to Democrats, but with little success.

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Laura Barron-Lopez contributed reporting.

This article has been updated to include Boehner's comments.

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