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McAdams, Fellow Moderate Dems Push for USMCA Floor Vote

November 22, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – A quartet of moderate Democrats took to House floor this week to press for a vote on the USMCA trade deal, despite the stark partisan divide inflamed by the ongoing impeachment inquiry.

“I think it’s important that the people who sent us here know that a partisan dispute in one area is not going to keep us working on other matters,” Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, told The Well News on Thursday.

“I can tell you farmers and manufacturers in my state are in a holding pattern and will continue to be until we get something done, and give them some sense of what the rules, as regard trade, are going to be,” he said.

As Rep. McAdams spoke, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was meeting on Capitol Hill with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass.

When she emerged from the hour-and-a-half-long meeting, Pelosi told reporters she doubts Congress has enough time left to pass the revised North American trade deal this year.

“We made progress. I think we’re narrowing our differences,” Pelosi said.

Lighthizer has been negotiating since June with a group of nine Democrats selected by Pelosi to secure changes to the USMCA.

Her concerns about the deal revolve around four main areas: labor standards, environmental standards, enforcement and prescription drug pricing.

People close to the negotiations have said many of Pelosi’s concerns have been addressed, but enforcement remains a sticking point. Democrats want the Trump administration to deliver on stronger enforcement mechanisms in the USMCA before a House vote is held.

McAdams said he’s heard the same reports, and understands “there are areas we need to improve.”

“At the same, time is of the essence,” he said.

Time, at least in 2019, is something the House really doesn’t have.

Thursday was the last day before Thanksgiving break for the chamber. When it returns, the House will have only eight official session days left on this year’s calendar, though there is talk that lawmakers will stay in Washington an extra week to deal with the budget and avoid a government shutdown that could occur on Dec. 20.

Prior to her meeting with Lighthizer, Pelosi conceded that even if a deal were struck Thursday, there were still numerous steps that needed to be taken before the USMCA could go into effect.

For one thing, the Trump administration would have to get Canada and Mexico to approve any changes made to the USMCA, which the leaders of all three countries signed in November 2018.

The White House would also have to quickly write up the formal implementing legislation that will be sent to Congress — something that can’t occur until the bill is marked up and voted on in the House.

It was concern over all this — and the increasing likelihood that USMCA won’t be passed this year — that inspired moderate Reps. McAdams, Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., to make it the focus of their one-minute floor speeches this week.

“Canada and Mexico are two of the Commonwealth’s largest trading partners,” Spanberger said. “In 2018 alone, Virginia exported $4.3 billion worth of goods to our northern and southern neighbors.

“Cattlemen and dairies, farmers and businesses across my central Virginia district care deeply about the certainty and stability afforded by a trade deal,” she said.  “My constituents want and need the long-term certainty of a trade deal between our three countries. We need house negotiators and the administration to come to a final agreement.”

Rep. Murphy, a member of the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, said she believes well-negotiated trade agreements can improve our economy and security.

“USMCA fixes flaws in some NAFTA chapters, based on the lessons we have learned since NAFTA was enacted in 1994,” she said. “It also adds new chapters to reflect the reality that the world has undergone major changes in the last 25 years.”

“I support the deliberate and productive negotiations taking place between the Administration and House Democrats,” Murphy continued. “I think both sides are working in good faith, with the shared goal of getting the best possible agreement over the finish line.” 

“It’s important we move swiftly and with a sense of urgency, but it’s just as important that we get this right,” she added.

 While Stanton said he’s encouraged by the progress House negotiators have evidently made in improving the deal, he reminded leadership that trade with Canada and Mexico has been a job creator in his state.

“Since 2012, while the nation’s exports grew just 0.1 percent, Phoenix’s exports grew by 20 percent.  In 2017, trade with Mexico and Canada produced nearly $10 billion in exports statewide,” he said.

“Simply put: Trade with our North American allies is essential to Arizona’s economy,” Stanton continued. “Now, we have a real opportunity to improve these relationships through USMCA.”

As for McAdams, he emphasized that trade with Canada and Mexico is a multi-trillion business, that has created 120,000 jobs in Utah alone.

“Jobs that pay the rent, provide health care, send kids to college and help Utahns save for retirement,” he said. “Over $418 million dollars’ worth of agricultural exports are sent from Utah to our North American neighbors each year.”

“For weeks we’ve been told by leadership and by the White House that action on the U.S. Mexico-Canada trade agreement is eminently doable.  So why haven’t we gotten it done?” McAdams said. “Today, I’m saying no more foot-dragging, no more vague promises about “soon.” It’s time to deliver on what we promised.”

On Thursday, McAdams said he completely understands Pelosi’s concerns over enforcement.

“If you can’t enforce protections for American businesses and workers, what kind of deal would you have?” he said.

Asked if he thought the changes sought by Democrats will have bipartisan support in the House, McAdams sounded a hopeful note.

Speaking of bipartisanship, he said “For it to happen, it’s important for people to have each other’s trust and to be known as honest brokers. I think the representatives you mentioned, Reps. Murphy and Spanberger and I have those relationships.

“We are not going to have agreement without honest conversation, but I think we’ve built those trust relationships.  And they are something you don’t achieve in a day, you build them over time,” he said.

In regard to the USMCA, McAdams said he’s still hopeful the House can pass it by year’s end.

“But there’s no time to waste,” he said.

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