Bloomberg News

House Panel Sets Debate on Trade Pacts Without U.S. Job Aid

July 05, 2011

(Updates with comment from analyst in fourth paragraph.)

July 5 (Bloomberg) -- The House Ways and Means Committee said it will consider three U.S. free-trade agreements on July 7 and won’t deal with the Obama administration’s request to renew aid for workers who lose jobs to overseas competition.

The panel led by Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, released draft legislation today without extending the Trade Adjustment Assistance program that President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats have sought to incorporate in bills to implement deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

Republican senators boycotted a June 30 Senate hearing on the accords, balking at the administration’s demands on worker aid as part of the trade-agreement consideration. The move set back efforts by Obama and business groups to get the long- delayed accords completed before a recess in August.

“Last week, they used procedural maneuvers to not even have this discussion, when somebody tried to force something down somebody else’s throat,” said Stephen Kho, a lawyer who worked in the U.S. Trade Representative’s office for nine years and helped negotiate the Korea accord. “This encourages the other side to do the same thing. In the area of free-trade agreements, this is worse than anything I’ve seen.”

Jim Billimoria, a spokesman for Camp, said the committee will hold a “non-markup of the three pending trade agreements.”

‘Important Step Forward’

The meeting is “an important step forward” for the agreements, while the decision on worker aid is “at odds” with Obama’s plan to seek action on both issues, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said today in an e-mail.

“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,” Kirk said.

Draft legislation to renew aid for workers displaced by overseas competition as part of the U.S.-South Korean agreement will be made available to the House committee along with bills to implement the deals with Colombia and Panama, the trade office said in the e-mail.

The Senate Republicans’ refusal to meet last week denied the party and the White House a bipartisan victory they said they wanted on deals supporters say may increase exports by $12 billion a year and boost the struggling U.S. economy. A separate South Korean free-trade deal with the European Union went into effect July 1, putting U.S. producers of autos, pharmaceuticals and scientific equipment at a disadvantage in the Asian economy.

Republican Pressure

After pressure from Republicans to move ahead on trade, Obama reworked agreements that his predecessor, George W. Bush, made with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. Obama won backing from business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for the deals, support the administration has been unable to win on health-care and environmental regulations.

Legislation to implement the trade bills is covered by fast-track protection, which provides that once the bills are submitted to Congress by the president they can’t be amended and must receive up-or-down votes.

Before the administration submits legislation, committees in the House and Senate conduct “mock markups,” which let lawmakers seek to amend provisions. The Senate hearing last week was intended to be the first such session.

The Trade Adjustment Assistance program augments health and unemployment benefits to workers who lose their jobs because of overseas competition. As part of the stimulus bill in 2009, it was expanded to include service workers such as call-center employees. Those added benefits expired in February.

--Editors: Steve Geimann, Judy Pasternak

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Martin in Washington at emartin21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net


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