Obama Says Congress Can Approve Trade Deals ‘Right Now,’ But Hasn’t Sent Them to Hill

Aug 22, 2011 8:35am

ABC News’ Devin Dwyer (@devindwyer) and Ann Compton (@anncompton) report: 

President Obama has touted three pending U.S. trade deals as measures that could immediately spur job growth, if only Congress would approve them to become law.  The only problem: the White House has not yet formally sent the deals to Congress for a vote. 

“With 1.3 million jobs lost under the ‘stimulus’ binge and the unemployment rate over 9 percent, there’s no excuse for the White House to delay a moment longer,” said Don Seymour, communications director for House Speaker John Boehner, in a blog post Friday. “If President Obama wants Congress to ‘go ahead and get those trade deals done,’ he should submit them for ratification as soon as possible.” 

Officials announced in June that, after months of negotiation between the administration and congressional Republicans, had agreed to the overall terms of the trade deals and an accompanying piece of legislation, known as the Trade Adjustment Assistance program – essentially clearing the way for the legislation to become law. 

“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 said on Jun. 29. “Now it is time to move forward with the TAA and with the Korea, Colombia and Panama trade agreements, which will support tens of thousands of jobs.” 

The development was praised by members of both parties and the business community, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which has lobbied heavily for passage of the trade deals.  

But the next step – actual votes on the agreements – remains mired in partisan finger-pointing over when and how the legislation should be brought to the floor in both chambers.

“There's a dispute because the president wants to pass the treaties in tandem with trade adjustment assistance for any workers who might be — American workers who might be disadvantaged by the treaties,” said senior Obama strategist David Axelrod on “This Week.” “We feel like we reached an agreement or made progress in the Senate.  We need to get this through Congress come the fall.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Aug. 3 before that he would only allow movement on the trade agreements once the TAA has passed.

And the White House says it won’t send the deals to the hill until an agreement is reached on how votes will proceed, which would preferably include guarantees the legislation won’t be subjected to change or amendment, or filibuster in the Senate. 

“We have yet to hear specifics on what the ‘path forward’ consists of (in the House and the Senate), and we haven’t heard any commitment from the Speaker,” said White House spokesman Matthew Vogel in an email.  

So, while the president says, “right now, Congress can advance a set of trade agreements,” and that “Congress could do right now,” that’s only partly true, so long as the partisan divide over the votes runs as long as Pennsylvania Ave. 

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