The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee on Monday called for a meeting of members from both chambers in order to work out differences on key trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) wrote Monday in a letter to leaders in both chambers that a “mock conference” should be scheduled in the near future on resolving the dispute over Trade Adjustment Assistance, which Republicans oppose but which the Obama administration has maintained must be included in the South Korea deal.
“Reconciling the two bills is the exclusive prerogative of Congress, a prerogative which cannot rightfully be devolved to the Executive branch,” Hatch wrote to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
“Therefore, as Ranking Member on the Senate Finance Committee, it is my expectation that a ‘mock conference’ will be scheduled shortly, thereby providing Congress with the opportunity to present to the president a template for drafting a final implementing bill which has the support of both Houses.”
At a “mock” markup last week, the House Ways and Means Committee approved its versions of the three trade deals, separating out the TAA program from the Korea deal. The Senate Finance Committee, meanwhile, green-lighted its own version of the deals, pairing up TAA with the Korea agreement.
Asked late last week how the House planned to proceed on the deals, Boehner said he had not yet made a decision.
“I have made it clear to the president and the White House that TAA should move on its own,” Boehner said at a Friday news conference. “We expect in the House to move four separate bills, and I would hope they would heed our advice.”
The administration and congressional leaders had been aiming to move the trade deals through Congress by early August, a deadline that now appears unlikely to be met as the parties continue to spar over TAA.
Meanwhile, a coalition of Democratic-aligned and labor groups on Monday protested the Colombia deal over concerns about anti-union violence in that country. In a statement, the groups said they were planning to display “51 coffins in front of the White House to symbolize the Colombian union leaders murdered in 2010 alone.”