16 July 2019
USMCA Legislation Waits as White House, Congress Continue Talks
Congressional action on legislation to implement the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement appears increasingly likely to be delayed until this fall as the Trump administration continues efforts to resolve objections raised by lawmakers.
Congressional Democrats have insisted for months that the USMCA needs to be improved, particularly in the areas of labour, environment, enforcement, intellectual property and access to medicines, before it would meet with their approval. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has been meeting with House Democrats over the last few weeks in an effort to determine how best to resolve these concerns. In an 8 July letter the New Democrat Coalition told Lighthizer that while these conversations “have been frank, productive and engaged in in good faith by all parties,” they have not resulted in “any meaningful progress or tangible proposals” from the administration.
The letter therefore urged the White House not to submit implementing legislation to Congress “absent the agreement of Democratic leadership,” which likely would not be given until some sort of agreement on the outstanding issues is reached. Under current law this bill can now be submitted at any time, as more than 30 days have passed since the administration sent a draft statement of administrative action to Congress.
However, press reports indicate that this step could be delayed until lawmakers return from their summer recess in September. A CNBC article cited unnamed sources as saying administration officials want more time to “sell the deal to members of Congress unsure about supporting it,” and other articles cited National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow as saying the White House is awaiting a signal from Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the House is ready to consider an implementing bill. Kudlow said this “could stretch on to the autumn” but expressed hope that it will be done “sooner than that.”
Once the legislation is submitted, the House Ways and Means Committee will have 45 days to report it or it will be automatically sent to the full House, which will then have another 15 days to vote on it. Assuming the bill passes the House, the Senate Finance Committee will have 15 days to consider and report it, following which the full Senate will have another 15 days to conduct its vote. It is important to note that this schedule is based on days Congress is in session, not calendar days.