Senate Panel Backs South Korea Trade Pact, Republicans Balk

Eric Martin and Bill McQuillen, Bloomberg The Senate Finance Committee backed legislation for a free-trade agreement with South Korea without support from Republicans, who object to using the accord to renew aid for workers who lose their jobs to global competition. The House Ways and Means Committee endorsed a separate bill on South Korea that didn’t provide for renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program sought by the Obama administration. The panels also backed an agreement with Panama, and the Senate supported a deal with Colombia. House action on Colombia is set later today. The meetings were “mock markups” that give lawmakers a chance to make amendments before legislation is submitted by the president. Free-trade accords are covered by fast-track rules. Once the president sends a bill, the process provides limits on debate and amendments before an up-or-down vote. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the senior Republican on the Finance committee, led lawmakers in opposing the Korea deal with worker aid added. The bill was backed on a 13-11 party-line vote. In the House, the Korea accord vote was 22-15. “Placing the TAA spending program in the South Korea bill was not an acceptable outcome,” Hatch said before losing a vote to amend the measure. The South Korea deal would boost U.S. exports by as much as $10.9 billion a year when in full effect, and the accord with Colombia would increase exports by as much as $1.1 billion, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission. President Barack Obama reworked the three free-trade agreements in response to concerns among Democrats on issues such as labor rights. The administration has been pushing to get the deals approved by Congress before a recess next month. ‘All Options’ Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat and Finance committee chairman, said he wouldn’t demand that Obama send a South Korea bill that includes worker aid, as long as Congress renews the program as it approves measures for the three trade agreements. “It’s up to the president what he sends up,” Baucus told reporters after the hearing. “I’m open to all options, so long as the result is getting all four passed.” 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 legislation in 2009, it was expanded to include service workers such as call- center employees. The added benefits expired in February. Read original post here.