June 22, 2015 / 7:19 PM / 4 years ago

Key Democratic senators back plan for trade legislation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate is headed toward showdown votes this week on legislation key to a Pacific trade pact, with some Democrats essential to passing the measure vowing to support it again and others undecided on whether to change their votes to oppose the bill.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) speaks with reporters as he arrives for the weekly Democratic Caucus policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington June 2, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Four of 14 Democrats who last month backed a bill to streamline, or fast-track, the passage of trade deals through Congress said they would again vote “yes” on the measure, which has divided their party and put most congressional Democrats at odds with President Barack Obama, also a Democrat.

The legislation would let lawmakers set objectives for trade deals such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but restrict them to a yes-or-no vote on the final deal.

Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee and one of the architects of the bill, said he would back the measure, as did colleagues Diane Feinstein, Thomas Carper and Bill Nelson.

But others were unhappy the fast-track measure had been split from a program to help workers who lose their jobs because of trade, after the House of Representatives rejected the worker aid program.

“We’re not there yet; we are still working to make sure we can get both to the president,” said Washington Democratic Senator Patty Murray.

Wyden said he held round-the-clock discussions over the last week with Republican leaders in the Senate and House and with leading Democrats.

“We’re continuing to talk to our colleagues,” he told reporters. “There’s great interest in getting this done this week.”

Senators are having to vote again on fast-track because of changes the House made to the legislation. The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 62-37 last month, and it needs 60 votes for fast-track to pass a procedural hurdle on Tuesday and proceed to a second vote.

Nelson told Reuters that he too would support fast-track in votes this week.

There could be some Democrats who switch their votes to “no,” he said, but he predicted the bill would pass nonetheless.

Obama is hoping Congress approves fast-track legislation that would help him complete negotiations this year on the TPP, which would help facilitate trade among countries ranging from Japan to Chile, while counterbalancing the rising economic and diplomatic influence of China.

Reporting by Krista Hughes and Richard Cowan; Editing by Eric Beech and Cynthia Osterman

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