Agreement Frees Up Free Trade Agreements

By John R Parkinson

Jun 28, 2011 5:57pm

ABC News’ Mary Bruce (@MaryKBruce), Sunlen Miller (@SunlenMiller) and John R. Parkinson (@JRPabcDC) report: 

The White House and Senate Democrats say they have reached an agreement on the underlying terms for a renewal of Trade Adjustment Assistance for American workers, paving the way for lawmakers to move forward with pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

“[President Obama] has fought for Trade Adjustment Assistance for those American workers who lose their jobs due to increased imports or outsourcing.  As a result of extensive negotiations, we now have an agreement on the underlying terms for a meaningful renewal of a strengthened TAA,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced Tuesday in a written statement. “The President embraces these critical elements of TAA needed to ensure that workers have the best opportunity to get good jobs that keep them in the middle class.” 

Trade Adjustment Assistance, which expired in February, provides financial assistance to workers, firms and farmers affected by increased trade.  The White House had previously said that the three trade deals would not be submitted to Congress until lawmakers reached a deal to renew the expanded version of TAA. Now, its renewal is expected to be included into the Korea trade agreement’s implementing bill. 

Still, House Republicans aren’t necessarily on board with the president’s agreement with Senate Democrats, and continue to push for TAA to be considered separately from the trade agreements. 

“We’re pleased the President may finally send us the three job-creating trade agreements we’ve requested.  But we have long said that TAA – even this scaled-back version – should be dealt with separately from the trade agreements, and that is how we expect to proceed,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.

The Senate Finance Committee announced Tuesday that they will hold a “mock” markup this Thursday for the trio of pending trade agreements – and the extension of TAA after brokering a deal with the White House.

“These free trade agreements, together with Trade Adjustment Assistance, will boost our economy by billions of dollars and create new jobs and opportunities here at home,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said – adding that he believes the package can get the support needed to become law.  

The Finance Committee will consider the draft implementing bills during a "mock" markup because Congress cannot amend final implementing bills submitted by the administration under the Trade Promotion Authority Act – also known as "fast track" – procedures.  Committee mock markups are the only opportunities for lawmakers to offer amendments to the White House’s proposals. 

Republicans have opposed renewing the trade aid initiative because of worries over adding to the national deficit. They also want the TAA to be considered separately along with an extension of Trade Promotion Authority.  

“I've never voted against a trade agreement before, but if the administration were to embed a TAA into the Korea Trade Agreement, I would be compelled to vote against it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell , R-KY., threatened. “I think this is making it needlessly complicated and contentious.”

McConnell called on the administration to rethink its path forward and instead send up all three trade agreements without what he called “extraneous poison pills included.” 

Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said Democrats are jeopardizing the trade deals and reiterated his support for a clean vote on each pact. 

 “This highly-partisan decision to include TAA in the South Korean FTA implementing bill risks support for this critical job-creating trade pact in the name of a welfare program of questionable benefit at a time when our nation is broke,” Hatch, R-Utah, stated Tuesday. “President Obama should send up our pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea and allow for a clean vote.”

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