Three long-stalled trade pacts with Colombia, South Korea and Panama took a key step closer to passage Wednesday as members of the House Ways and Means Committee voted overwhelmingly to approve the deals.
“Today has been five years in the making and could not come at a better time for American workers, consumers and businesses,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said in a statement. “The agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea will help create and support 250,000 American jobs and add over $10 billion to our gross domestic product – all without adding one dime in new government spending. I look forward to the quick passage of these trade agreements into law and the [Trade Adjustment Assistance] bill by the House.”
The panel approved the South Korea deal – the largest of the three – on a 31-to-5 vote. The Panama pact passed the committee on a 32-to-3 vote, and the Colombia pact passed on a vote of 24 to 12.
Opponents of the deals -- principally liberal Democrats and organized labor -- argue that the trade agreements would lead to job losses; they also say that Colombia has not done enough to address anti-union violence.
The deals, which were originally negotiated during the Bush administration, would boost U.S. exports by $13 billion a year; both the White House and congressional Republicans have touted the three pacts as a means of creating tens of thousands of jobs without requiring additional federal spending.
The House is expected to act next week on the trade deals as well as on a separate measure renewing aid for workers who lost their jobs due to outsourcing. In the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has yet to set a date for a markup of the three pacts.
Both chambers are expected to approve the deals before the end of the month, bringing to an end more than five years of wrangling over the deals.
As the agreements make their way through Congress, the Senate has been at work on a separate trade-related measure that would ratchet up U.S. pressure on China to allow its currency to appreciate. While the Senate is poised to pass the bill on Thursday, House Republican leaders have declined to bring the measure up for a vote, arguing that it could lead to a costly trade war with China.
A similar measure passed the House last year with bipartisan support.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) renewed his call for House GOP leaders to allow a vote on the bill. “I would hope that (House Majority Leader Eric Cantor) would recant and bring this bill to the floor,” Hoyer told reporters Wednesday afternoon, adding that the bill would have “overwhelming support” in the chamber.