CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Oct. 3, 2011 – 10:45 p.m.
Trade Accords Reach Final Steps
By Ben Weyl, CQ Staff
The Obama administration and House Republicans have found an area of agreement on the job creation front, as the two sides on Monday set the final steps for advancing three major trade deals.
The plan for moving the pacts has detractors in both parties, with Democrats worried about manufacturing job losses and some Republicans unhappy with a worker benefit program that will move in tandem with the agreements. But the White House, along with Republican leaders and major business organizations, insist that the agreements with South Korea (
In contrast to the bruising budget fights of this past summer, the passage of the bills to implement the trade pacts, as well as a Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) measure (
The latest, and most important, move came Monday, when President Obama formally submitted to Congress the pending agreements, which he has touted as a key part of his jobs agenda.
“These agreements will support tens of thousands of jobs across the country for workers making products stamped with three proud words: ‘Made in America,’ ” Obama said in a statement.
House GOP leaders immediately welcomed the news and signaled that the deals would receive quick consideration, even as they hammered Obama for dragging his feet on submitting the agreements.
“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,” said Speaker
In separate statements, Ways and Means Chairman
“We look forward to swift action from the Senate and the White House to implement these agreements so that the economy can grow and people can get back to work,” Cantor said in a statement.
Under “fast track” procedures that cover these agreements, the deals must receive an up-or-down vote in both chambers, without amendment, within 90 days. No trade agreement submitted to Congress under these procedures has ever been rejected.
The South Korea deal is considered the most economically significant since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It would open the Korean markets — and serve as a steppingstone to the rest of Asia — for a broad range of U.S. manufacturers, agricultural producers, banks, and insurance and other services companies. The Colombia and Panama deals, backers say, are important to bolstering U.S. interests in Latin America.
In his statement, Boehner also promised votes on the deals “consecutively and in tandem with” the Senate-passed TAA bill to aid workers displaced by foreign trade — the linchpin of a complex legislative process designed to advance the agreements.
Indeed, though passage of the trade pacts is one of the few shared priorities of the Obama administration and GOP lawmakers, a dispute over TAA and an enduring lack of trust between the two parties delayed submission of the deals for months and continues to inject an air of uncertainty as to the ultimate outcome.
Trade Accords Reach Final Steps
Before submitting the deals, the administration insisted on restoring expanded TAA benefits that were part of the 2009 economic stimulus law (PL 111-5) and had lapsed in February; the TAA program is currently operating at its pre-stimulus levels.
For months, GOP lawmakers resisted, with many conservatives saying the new program was too expensive and ineffective.
The impasse appeared to be broken in June, when Camp, Senate Finance Chairman
For example, the TAA bill would renew a health care tax credit for recipients that covers 72.5 percent of premiums, down from 80 percent under the stimulus law, but up from the initial 65 percent. The program would again be available to service workers, as under the stimulus.
In August, Senate leaders announced they had devised a “path forward” that would pave the way for separate consideration of TAA and the trade deals, though they kept the details to themselves.
Last month, as part of that complex legislative agreement, the Senate took up and passed a bill that included the TAA package. It included language to revive the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), an expired program that is designed to help developing countries.
That 70-27 vote for TAA was a crucial element of the agreement, though even after that, there was lingering uncertainty over who would act first, the Obama administration or House Republicans. Over the past few days, there had been increasing indications that progress was being made between the administration and House GOP leaders on the deals’ submission, culminating in Monday’s announcement.
New Life for Old Deals
The trade agreements were first negotiated by the George W. Bush administration but stalled when Democrats, who largely opposed the deals, took control of Congress in 2007.
Four years later when Republicans swept back into the House majority, the deals received new life. Obama, too, became more inclined to back the agreements as he sought to mend fences with the business community, which strongly supports the pacts. In an effort to garner more Democratic support for the deals, Obama successfully renegotiated certain aspects of the pacts to make them more palatable to liberals and some labor unions.
In a conference call with reporters Monday, senior administration officials expressed confidence that Boehner and other House GOP leaders would keep their end of the bargain, resulting in passage of the TAA bill and all three trade deals. The Speaker “views this as a swift process,” said one administration official. “Folks are working on the Hill together to ensure that there is broad support for all four.”
GOP lawmakers are expected to back all three deals, and there probably will be more Democratic support for the South Korea and Panama pacts than for the one with Colombia.
Last year, Obama struck a new deal on auto tariffs with the South Korean government, which won the endorsement of Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers, though not other major labor organizations. Rep.
Trade Accords Reach Final Steps
The Colombia deal, on the other hand, faces opposition from most of organized labor over the country’s long record of violence against union activists, and it is likely to win far fewer Democratic votes in the House.
The one remaining question is TAA, but that is also expected to pass with unified Democratic support and some GOP backing, though exactly how much remains to be seen, since many conservatives still oppose the program.
The trade bills are expected to glide through the Senate, but probably not until the House moves on TAA.
Joseph J. Schatz contributed to this story.