House Panel to Debate Trade Pacts


WASHINGTON (Dow Jones) — A House committee will start informal debate this week on trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, but won’t consider including funding for job retraining sought by the White House.

The decision by House Republican leaders to leave out renewed funding for Trade-Adjustment Assistance, while already well-telegraphed, presents a new challenge for the delicate bipartisan compromise reached for moving forward on the Bush-era trade deals. The Obama administration has been insisting that expired funding for the program to help workers displaced by trade be approved along with the three trade agreements.

United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the House Ways and Means Committee’s proposal is “at odds” with the administration’s plans to get a package approved by Congress that includes the trade pacts and retraining program. He said the administration would provide the committee with language to renew Trade-Adjustment Assistance.

“The Administration remains committed to advancing the renewal of a robust Trade-Adjustment Assistance program that is the product of a bipartisan process, together with the pending trade agreements, as soon as possible,” said Kirk.

Two top Democrats on the Ways and Means committee also criticized their Republican colleagues for omitting the retraining program, while also calling for labor measures recently agreed to by Colombia to be included in that bill. The lawmakers–Sander Levin (D., Mich.), the committee’s top Democrat, and Rep. Jim McDermott (D., Wash.)–have signaled support for the South Korea deal but call the decision to leave out the Colombia labor plan a “fatal flaw” for that pact.

The White House brokered a deal last week with Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) for renewing the job retraining program at funding below levels included in the 2009 stimulus bill. But while the administration sought to move forward last week in the Democratic-led Senate to include the retraining program in the free-trade agreements, Republican leaders in the House and Senate continue to insist that the trade pacts be approved on their own.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans threw up a temporary block to the Democratic plans, boycotting a late-afternoon debate on the trade legislation at the last minute.

Now, the House Ways and Means Committee will go forward with its own informal debate on the three trade pacts, without including the retraining program, a House Republican aide told Dow Jones Newswires.

The committee has scheduled the session Thursday. Draft legislation being considered by the House has dropped language related to Trade-Adjustment Assistance that was in the Senate version.

But both the House and Senate versions propose renewing expired programs that give duty-free access for imports from Colombia, Ecuador and more than 100 developing countries through July 31, 2013. Renewal of the Andean preferences and Generalized System of Preferences program are included in the Colombia trade bill.

The Republican moves are largely symbolic, as the informal proceedings amount to more of a test run for passing the trade agreements. The trade committees hold votes on amendments and make recommendations to the White House for the final implementing bill. The votes, which aren’t binding, provide the last opportunity for congressional input before the trade deals are submitted for an up-or-down vote.

Still, the diverging approaches between the House and Senate trade panels could put the White House in a difficult spot on how to proceed, especially if the committees vote differently on whether to include Trade-Adjustment Assistance. The Senate Finance Committee is also expected to reschedule its trade debate for later this week, after senators opted to cut short their July Fourth holiday to seek a deal on cutting the budget.

Kirk reiterated that the “administration’s stated intentions” are to end up with a package with both the free-trade agreements and funding for workers displaced by trade.

Source:  Dow Jones

Posted by Haylie Shipp


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