The White House submitted free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama for Congressional approval Monday, a long-awaited step that could lead to a rare bipartisan agreement next week to approve the stalled trade deals.
Though President Obama has cited passage of the trade measures for months as the kind of job creation initiative that should enjoy support from both parties, he had delayed sending the bills to Congress for formal consideration as the two parties debated whether to also extend a program that provides assistance to Americans who lose their jobs to outsourcing.
“The series of trade agreements I am submitting to Congress today will make it easier for American companies to sell their products in South Korea, Colombia, and Panama and provide a major boost to our exports,” Obama said in a statement. “These agreements will support tens of thousands of jobs across the country for workers making products stamped with three proud words: Made in America.
“We’ve worked hard to strengthen these agreements to get the best possible deal for American workers and businesses, and I call on Congress to pass them without delay, along with the bipartisan agreement on Trade Adjustment Assistance that will help workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition,” the statement said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) released a statement saying the House would vote on the trade deals next week; Senate leaders said the chamber would act on the bills following House action.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance program expired in February and its extension could help assuage liberal concerns that free trade agreements result in the loss of American manufacturing jobs. Obama and business interests have insisted the trade agreements will, in fact, spur job growth by boosting American exports.
But Democrats have wanted to extend the assistance program in concert with the trade bills.
The Senate last month passed a bill that would provide extended unemployment benefits for workers who lose their jobs due to overseas outsourcing.
The deal to pass either could still be derailed. But an overwhelming 70 to 27 vote in the Senate on the TAA compromise has paved the way for near simultaneous consideration of both the worker aid bill and the trade deals in the House.
If the White House’s agreement with House leaders holds, both measures will likely see action on the floor next week. House leaders signaled Monday that they will move ahead with the TAA bill, a Democratic demand, by announcing that the Rules Committee will hear the measure in the evening, a key step before floor consideration of the bill.
Congressional action on both would mean benefits for both workers and business, which believe the trade deals could result in billions of new American exports.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said that with the White House’s move a “crucial hurdle” had been cleared to help create jobs.
“While the delay was unacceptably long and likely cost jobs, I am pleased the Obama Administration has finally done its part and sent these important trade pacts to Congress,” he said. “Now that all three agreements have been transmitted, they will be a top priority for the House.”
He promised to move the agreements forward in tandem with the TAA legislation.
“These three trade agreements will support American jobs and help create opportunities to expand for American businesses. I look forward to seeing them passed, as well as beginning the important task of working with the Administration to further expand America’s trade agenda,” Boehner said in a statement.
Senate leadership also voiced support for the bills.
“I have long supported these three deals, which were originally negotiated during the last administration, and look forward to passing them through the Senate in short order,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement.
The White house action also drew praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“America is finally getting back in the game,” Chamber president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said in a statement. “These agreements are about creating jobs and ensuring a level playing field for trade.”
Donohue promised that the Chamber would “pull out all of the stops” to get votes for the deals.
Action on the bills, which were negotiated under former President George W. Bush and have been stalled in Congress, would also be a rare chance for a divided Congress to show it can find common ground, particularly without the kind of crisis point deadline that has been the only way to get legislative action on other issues in recent months.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who has pushed for consideration of the extension of assistance for workers along with the free trade deals, said the White House’s move was a ”critical step forward” and called for the House to quickly approve the assistance program and the trade deals.
“By enacting the agreements and renewing TAA, we help ensure that American workers and businesses are fully equipped to take advantage of new, lucrative export opportunities,” he said.