The Washington Post

Trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea may hit speed bump in House

Three key trade deals agreed to Tuesday by the White House and congressional negotiators may come up against a hurdle in the House, where Republican leaders say that the attachment of an assistance program for workers whose jobs have been outsourced is a non-starter.

Republicans had already said they were displeased with the White House’s move to include a renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program as part of a South Korea trade pact, but on Wednesday House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) issued the strongest statement yet that House leaders would seek to separate the TAA program from the trade deals.

“While I am pleased to see progress being made on these export agreements that can help to immediately grow our economy and create jobs, it’s concerning the Administration seeks to attach TAA to these bills,” McCarthy said in a statement. “The House has been clear these should be dealt with separately and that is how we expect the legislation to come to the floor.”

The move complicates the road ahead for the South Korea, Panama and Colombia trade deals, which the Obama administration has touted as key parts of its goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2015. Republicans have pushed the White House to submit the pacts to Congress, and after months of wrangling, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and the White House on Tuesday announced that an agreement on the substance of the deals had been reached.

But some Republicans have balked at the inclusion of TAA with the South Korea deal. Baucus’ committee plans to consider the proposals on Thursday, while the House Ways and Means Committee likely won’t take them up until the House returns from recess next week – at which point Republicans may seek to separate the trade deals from the TAA renewal.

If that happens, the Senate and the House could send competing versions of the trade pacts back to the White House, increasing the likelihood that the administration and Congress may further wrangle over them and that both chambers may fail to reach their goal of passing them before the August congressional recess.

With the future of the trade deals in doubt, Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) on Wednesday announced that they would introduce standalone legislation on renewing TAA for five years at 2009 funding levels – a broader plan than what negotiators agreed to in the deal announced Tuesday, which would renew the program for three years at 2002 funding levels.

“Trade Adjustment Assistance should move through Congress on its own merit, along with the several bipartisan trade enforcement initiatives introduced in the Senate,” Brown said in a statement. “It’s no surprise Americans are cynical over empty promises about jobs created through free trade agreements like Korea -- particularly when these agreements are coupled with assistance for workers who lose their jobs to trade. If there was ever any doubt that free trade agreements cost American jobs, the Korea/TAA deal provides clarity.”


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