House Republicans on Friday urged the Obama administration to press forward with three stalled trade agreements that have divided Democrats.
The Republicans said they had been encouraged by a White House meeting on Wednesday where President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaOvernight Tech: FCC chief gives states more control over internet subsidies | Dems urge Trump to veto bill blocking online privacy rules | House boosts its mobile security Overnight Defense: Pentagon considers more troops for Afghanistan | McCain, Graham won't back short-term funding | GOP defends Trump rules of engagement Paul Ryan sells out conservatives with healthcare surrender MORE provided a “positive outlook" on advancing the deals negotiated by the Bush administration.
House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn BoehnerPaul Ryan sells out conservatives with healthcare surrender Matt Schlapp: 5 lessons Trump, Ryan must learn from healthcare debate Nunes rebuffs calls for recusal MORE (Ohio) signed the letter along with House Minority Whip Eric CantorEric CantorPaul Ryan sells out conservatives with healthcare surrender A path forward on infrastructure Democrats step up calls that Russian hack was act of war MORE (Va.) and Reps. Dave Camp (Mich.) and Mike Pence (Ind.).
The three trade deals mentioned in the letter are with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. All three are vociferously opposed by labor unions, particularly the agreement with Colombia, which unions insist has not done enough to prosecute those responsible for violence against union organizers.
The Democratic Party has been deeply divided on the issue of trade, with nearly half the caucus signing legislation that would call for the renegotiation of existing trade deals. Other Democrats, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), have spoken out in favor of moving the deals.
Trade has been pushed to the sideline this year as the House and Senate worked to pass healthcare reform. The troubled economy, particularly double-digit unemployment, has also made it difficult to consider trade deals, though supporters of the agreements argue the deals would create U.S. jobs.
Business groups in Washington have been waiting, so far in vain, for a speech from Obama that would outline his administration’s objectives on trade.
Sen. Charles GrassleyChuck GrassleyOvernight Finance: Dems seek probe of acting SEC chief | Defense hawks say they won't back short-term funding | Senate seen as start point for Trump infrastructure plan | Dems want more money for IRS Overnight Regulation: Trump administration lifts Obama freeze on federal coal mining Senators offer bill aimed at helping IRS whistleblowers MORE (Iowa), the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, also pressed Obama on his policy during the White House meeting on Wednesday, saying the president is dithering on the matter.
“There’s too much hesitation and delay on this issue,” Grassley said in a release about the meeting. He went on to tell Obama he was concerned that the European Union was signing an agreement with South Korea that would give Europe a leg up on the United States.
“While we’re sitting on the sidelines, Europe has negotiated with South Korea and is in a position to go ahead and take the opportunities for exports that the United States will miss,” he said.
Grassley told the Mason City Globe Gazette that Obama said he knew the country needed to expand trade.
“I think he was trying to say by inference that it’s pretty hard to get it done politically right now, but that’s where he needs to spend some political capital,” Grassley told the Gazette.
The White House meeting with congressional leaders was focused on jobs, an issue expected to dominate the political landscape next year.
Both the House and Senate are working on new jobs bills, and Obama this week endorsed a new jobs bill to be paid for in part by money left over from the $700 billion bailout of the nation’s financial sector.
In their letter, the House Republicans said moving the trade deals would create jobs and urged Obama to promote the agreements in his State of the Union address next month.