GOP increases pressure on Obama to move trade deals

Republicans took to the Senate floor Wednesday to urge the Obama administration to immediately send three pending free-trade agreements to Capitol Hill. 

The floor speeches are part of a campaign by the GOP to pressure the White House to reach an agreement with House leadership on passing a worker-aid program that would free up the trade deals for congressional votes, a move supporters argue will create jobs in the stagnating economy. 

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“We’ve got to move forward on this,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who — along with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and at least a dozen other Republicans — has vowed to support the streamlined version of the worker-aid bill in order to get the White House to submit the trade deals.

The latest pressure from the GOP came a day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he’ll take up a trade preferences bill approved by the House next week. Reid intends to add the worker-aid bill, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), to the trade preferences bill, and send the combined package to the House. 

The Obama administration is seeking a guarantee that the House will pass TAA before it sends the three trade deals to Congress for approval. Most observers think the agreements have the votes to secure passage in both chambers. 

As a result, Obama would lose some leverage in winning a vote on TAA once he sends the three trade deals to Congress.

Reid, an opponent of the three trade agreements — with South Korea, Colombia and Panama — said once the House passes the TAA trade preferences package, he will clear the three trade deals.

But Reid said he would not move the trade deals through the Senate until the House approves the other package, setting up a political decision for House GOP leaders. Many House Republicans do not like the TAA program.

“As most everyone knows here, I don’t like them,” Reid said of the trade agreements. “I don’t like any of the three of them. But they have a lot of support over here — quite a bit of support — Democrats and I think overwhelming support by Republicans. So that’s why I intend to move forward on those.”

Though Reid has suggested that House leaders and the White House have worked out a deal that will allow the worker-assistance program and the three trade agreements to be approved, a spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative said there’s no firm deal in place. 

The spokesman said trade officials are “continuing to work with Congress” to move the trade deals and TAA, and that they “look forward to completing the process as soon as possible.”

Although there might be other amendments to the trade preferences bill — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he’ll try to attach an extension of Trade Promotion Authority, which would make it easier to negotiate more trade deals — none is likely to have enough support to eclipse the 60-vote threshold for passage set by both Senate leaders.

“I think I’ve heard [that the House] is going to try to come up with some kind of a rule that they will enroll that bill when the trade bills are passed,” Reid said, although no clear process has emerged.

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