In a long-awaited move, the House on Wednesday approved three trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, as well as the renewal of an aid program for workers who have lost their jobs because of outsourcing, sending the pacts to the Senate for final approval Wednesday evening.
The three trade deals, which would boost U.S. exports by $13 billion, were originally negotiated by the Bush administration but have been stalled for years as the parties wrangled over renewing the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, as well as over anti-union violence in Colombia.
With the House’s action, the last big hurdle to approval of the deals has been removed; the Senate is expected to overwhelmingly back them later Wednesday, one day before South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is expected to address a joint meeting of Congress.
Approval of the deals will represent a major victory for the Obama administration as well as bipartisan congressional leaders, all of whom have touted the trade pacts as an opportunity to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and jump-start the economy without requiring additional government spending.
The trade agreements are of particular import for President Obama, who has set a goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015 and who is facing a tough bid for a second term at a time of 9.1 percent unemployment. Business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have also strongly urged passage of the deals.
Opponents of the trade deals, principally liberal Democrats and labor groups, have argued that they will lead to the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs rather than create new jobs in the United States. Some Democrats have also argued that Colombia has not done enough to address anti-union violence there.
The House’s approval of the deals comes one day after the Senate passed a bill that would increase pressure on China to allow its currency to appreciate — a measure that supporters argue would lead to the creation of more than 1.6 million jobs. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged the House on Wednesday to approve the bill before consideration of the three trade deals.
House Republican leaders have declined to allow the currency bill to go to the floor, however, arguing that the measure could lead to a “dangerous” trade war with China; the White House, which has also expressed reservations about the legislation, has not formally backed it.