White House Sends FTA’s to Congress

October 4, 2011

On Oct. 3, President Barack Obama submitted implementing legislation for the long-delayed free trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama to Congress which will allow them to move forward along with legislation to help workers who are hurt by increased trade. These trade accords –initially reached under President George W. Bush–have been stalled primarily over disagreements tied to extending the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program that helps workers who lose their jobs to overseas competition.

In his statement, President Obama said “The series of trade agreements I am submitting to Congress today will make it easier for American companies to sell their products in South Korea, Colombia and Panama and provide a major boost to our exports,”…“We’ve worked hard to strengthen these agreements to get the best possible deal for American workers and businesses, and I call on Congress to pass them without delay, along with the bipartisan agreement on Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that will help workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition.”

The President called on lawmakers to approve the trade pacts without delay and his announcement came shortly after the House Rules Committee approved a closed rule for the consideration of the TAA program that allows for an hour of debate and no amendments. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the House intends to debate and pass the measures next week—the Senate passed the TAA legislation on Sept. 22. The White House had insisted on a clear path to passing the worker retraining funds before the trade deals could be submitted.

Moving forward, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) vowed to make all three trade agreements a top priority for the House. He said he expected them to be approved “consecutively and in tandem with Senate-passed TAA legislation.” The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a markup of all four pending pieces of legislation on Wednesday.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he expects to pass the bills during the next work period, which ends Oct. 24. While it is likely all four bills will pass in the near future, the president is hoping the three trade deals will be finalized before a state visit by South Korea’s president on Oct. 13.

Under rules governing trade agreements negotiated in the Bush years, the trade deal implementing legislation may not be amended, and Congress has 90 days to hold up-or-down votes on each of the agreements. Changes to the legislation would make it subject to normal rules and procedures, including amendment and a Senate filibuster.

A fact sheet on the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement is available HERE.

A fact sheet on the U.S.-Panama Trade Agreement is available HERE.

A fact sheet on the U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement is available HERE.