July 14, 2024

White House and Congress Clear Trade Deal Hurdle

Haggling over the modest and obscure benefits program had tied up the trade pacts for months, pitting Democrats concerned about the impact of competition on American workers against Republicans eager to increase foreign trade but loath to increase federal spending on another aid program.

But the deal does not assure that Congress will pass the pacts, which are crucial ingredients in the Obama administration’s recipe for reinvigorating economic growth. Indeed, Republicans quickly said they would continue to insist that the benefits program be considered separately from the trade agreements, a condition Democrats described as unacceptable.

The Obama administration, which had maintained for weeks that it would not submit the trade pacts to Congress until the deadlock was resolved, by Tuesday night found itself defending its new deal as an important step that might lead to a complete resolution.

“As a result of extensive negotiations, we now have an agreement on the underlying terms for a meaningful renewal of a strengthened” benefits program, the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said in a statement. Other administration officials hastened to clarify that that deal did not extend to the question of how that agreement might be approved.

Senator Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Finance Committee, said that he would convene a hearing Thursday morning, starting a process that could end with the bills passing into law before the end of summer.

“We think this package can get the support needed to become law,” Mr. Baucus said. “American workers and our economy can’t afford for us to wait any longer to move forward.”

Senate Republicans, however, said they would seek to strip the benefits program from the legislation by asking the Senate parliamentarian to rule that its inclusion did not comply with Senate rules, because it was not sufficiently related to the main subject of the legislation.

Senator Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, said that the White House’s strategy “risks support for this critical job-creating trade pact in the name of a welfare program of questionable benefit at a time when our nation is broke.”

John Boehner, the House speaker, said he would hold separate votes on the free trade agreements and the benefits program. That step, even if all four pieces pass, would terminate a special process that allows for the rapid approval of trade agreements, leaving the package much more vulnerable to Senate opposition.

“We have long said that T.A.A. — even this scaled-back version — should be dealt with separately from the trade agreements, and that is how we expect to proceed,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, referring to the worker benefit program, Trade Adjustment Assistance.

The trade agreements would eliminate tariffs on the flow of goods and services between the United States and the other countries. The United States has similar agreements with Mexico, Canada and 15 other countries.

The free trade agreement with South Korea could increase annual sales of American goods to that country by up to $10.9 billion, according to a 2007 estimate by a federal agency, the United States International Trade Commission. Dairy products, pork and poultry, chemicals, rubber and plastics are among the goods in greatest demand.

The agreement with Colombia, a much smaller trading partner, would create annual demand for about $1.1 billion in American goods, the agency estimated. It said the impact of the Panama agreement would be even smaller. It did not provide an estimate.

Steven Greenhouse contributed reporting from New York.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a16b39b984cb1e50babe7b00a622f74e

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