In response perhaps to the outcry over White House foot-dragging over the lack of progress on free-trade agreements, last night Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) finally agreed to move the agreements forward. A delicately worded statement posted on Reid’s Web site last night read as follows:
Reid: “My staff and Senator McConnell’s staff have been in discussions for weeks over the Trade Adjustment Assistance program and the three outstanding FTAs. We believe those discussions have provided a path forward in the Senate after we return for passage of the bipartisan compromise on the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, followed by passage of the three FTAs. I do not support movement on the FTAs, which I have never supported, until TAA [trade adjustment assistance] has passed.”
McConnell: “I agree with the Majority Leader that we have a path forward on TAA and the Free Trade Agreements. I have long supported passage of the long-delayed FTAs, and I know that I speak for many on my side of the aisle that we are eager to get moving and finally pass them. Although I do not personally support TAA, I know there is bipartisan support for this program.”
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) then put out his own statement:
Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) issued the following statement in reaction to the announcement that the leadership in the U.S. Senate has agreed to a process forward on the pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea:
Chairman Camp: “Today’s agreement on a path forward in the Senate brings us one step closer toward enacting the long-pending, job-creating trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Every day that goes by, we lose more export and job opportunities to our European and Canadian counterparts, who have already entered into agreements with these countries. Washington must act and act now; we cannot afford to let these trade agreements languish any longer. As we’ve said repeatedly, the House is prepared to act on the three pending trade agreements and on Trade Adjustment Assistance, and I urge the Senate and the White House to be ready to walk down the path announced today in September.”
However, it isn’t clear that there is sufficient support for the TAA. Sen.Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has been vigorously pushing for completion of these agreements, put out a statement:
U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, today welcomed a bipartisan announcement to advance the pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea in the Senate and called on the Obama Administration to send up the trade pacts for congressional consideration.
“With a clear path forward in the Senate, the President must halt any efforts to include Trade Adjustment Assistance as part of the largest trade agreement negotiated in more than a decade. This would be a misguided approach that would ultimately put the Korean FTA at serious risk.
“It’s now time for the President to act and submit the pending trade agreements to Congress as soon as possible. Every day that passes puts American exporters at an international competitive disadvantage and delays the creation of tens of thousands of jobs for American workers.”
That is right: The Senate is still waiting for the free-trade deals to be submitted.
What is not clear, however, is whether there are sufficient votes for passage in the Senate (with or without the TAA). And judging from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s objections yesterday, it’s not clear that House Democrats are willing to cooperate. I suppose they will have to await instruction from their union donors.