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Markup shows little sign of Ways and Means bipartisan opportunity on trade

The House Ways and Means Committee’s daylong markup of trade bills on Wednesday underscored the problems for bipartisan deal making on trade policy this year.

Democrats lined up against five of the six bills that the panel took up and ultimately approved.

Republicans sought to draw some bipartisan support. But Democrats are digging in on reauthorizing Trade Adjustment Assistance, which aids workers who lose jobs thanks to international trade. TAA is a priority for labor groups. The GOP, though, is unlikely to include TAA in the sort of trade-bill package debated Wednesday.

Even though there’s some bipartisan support for reviving expired trade programs, the sticky politics and divisions on trade are again leaving little hope for cross-aisle cooperation in the House this year.

One bill, though, showed bipartisan support that could help make it a candidate for a floor vote on its own. Five Democrats broke off to vote with Republicans for a measure requiring a study of forced labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s cobalt mining industry.

It wasn’t immediately clear if or how Republicans could seek to advance the other bills approved on party lines, but the House’s razor-thin majority makes their path trickier.

And after Democrats opposed a Republican “de minimis” bill during Wednesday’s markup, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told us that he’ll continue pressing for his own bipartisan proposal to tighten the rules. Both proposals aim to boost scrutiny of low-value packages entering the United States from China, in particular, but Blumenauer’s version is more expansive.

Blumenauer, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Trade subcommittee, acknowledged that lawmakers aren’t too far apart on de minimis but said he’ll keep working to build more bipartisan support for his own bill.

And in other markup news: The House Financial Services Committee had a markup of its own Wednesday night, clearing several bills on partisan lines. One exception: A bill from Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) requiring a congressional report following the Treasury Department’s use of “systemic risk” determinations after bank failures saw unanimous support.

— Laura Weiss and Brendan Pedersen

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