WASHINGTON Senate Republicans plan to push ahead with legislation key to sealing a Pacific trade pact as soon as possible, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday, despite objections from the chamber's top Democrat.
McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor, said that as soon as the Senate finishes work on budget and Iran legislation, he will attempt to bring up a bill to streamline the passage of trade deals through Congress.
The budget and Iran bills are expected to be completed by next week.
An aide to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said on Monday that Reid would try to delay the trade bill until bills to authorize highway funding and renew a domestic surveillance program are debated.
"Of course we've heard of an attempt to stand in the way of an effort to pass this bipartisan legislation," McConnell said of the trade bill on the Senate floor.
But he added, "I plan, with the support of members of both parties, to turn to the bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act once we finish the Iran bill."
Reid, speaking just after McConnell, did not say he would seek to delay the trade bill. But he said it was important to handle measures on highway funding and domestic surveillance before a Senate recess at the end of this month.
While Reid does not set the Senate schedule, he could erect procedural roadblocks that would make it difficult to move the trade bill promptly.
Democratic senator Ron Wyden, who drafted the "fast-track" bill in partnership with Republicans, said all three bills could and should be completed before the break.
President Barack Obama is trying to wrap up negotiations with 11 other countries on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, aimed at spurring trade among the Pacific Rim countries.
Fast-track authority would allow Obama to reach the deal knowing that Congress could give only an up-or-down vote and not amend it.
Reid has expressed deep concerns with such a deal, as have U.S. labor unions, which say it would jeopardize U.S. jobs in order to help large corporations.
Many Democrats in Congress are lining up against the trade bill, but it might have enough support to eventually pass the Senate.
The two measures Reid mentioned face approaching deadlines for action. Congress needs to renew funds for transport infrastructure by May 31, while the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act expires on June 1.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Krista Hughes; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)