Republicans and Democrats apparently have reached an agreement that would see the approval of the free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia – all three negotiated while George W. Bush was president.
The deals were long held up by Democrats because of opposition from the unions. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announced Tuesday that a deal was in place to clear the path for congressional approval of three pending trade agreements.
According to The Hill, Baucus said he had secured an agreement with the White House and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to renew the expanded version of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). The program, which funds job-training programs and healthcare benefits for workers hurt by trade, will be extended until the end of 2013.
“The road to this point has not been an easy one, but our economy needs these jobs and these opportunities,” Baucus said in a statement. “That’s why we have continued to fight to pass these job-creating agreements and restore this vital worker-assistance program. We think this package can get the support needed to become law. American workers and our economy can’t afford for us to wait any longer to move forward.”
The White House hailed the agreement as a breakthrough.
“The president embraces these critical elements of TAA needed to ensure that workers have the best opportunity to get good jobs that keep them in the middle class. Now it is time to move forward with TAA and with the Korea, Colombia and Panama trade agreements, which will support tens of thousands of jobs,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney in a statement.
In essence Democrats appear to have won the battle, as approval of the trade agreements is contingent of continued funding for TAA programs through the end of 2013.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged lawmakers to act now on the pending trade deals and said it was in favor of TAA as well as the trade preferences programs.
“For members of Congress who care about American jobs, this is a moment of truth,” said Tom Donohue, the Chamber’s president and CEO. “I urge members of both parties to seize a reasonable compromise and move the trade agenda forward. The time to act is now.”