The House was expected to pass legislation Wednesday night to extend duty-free imports from 129 developing countries through July 2013. While routine in nature -this bill is important because once it arrives in the Senate it will likely become the vehicle for carrying a much more controversial bill updating the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. TAA helps retrain people put out of work because of liberalized U.S. trade. If the Senate is successful in such an effort - the measure would go back to the House for another vote.
Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., joined with other Senate trade Republicans Wednesday to urge President Obama to submit the pending trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress for a vote. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the U.S. has fallen behind other countries when it comes to implementing trade deals and negotiating new ones. He says that's unacceptable when so many Americans need jobs and trade supports U.S. jobs. Grassley adds the U.S. is losing its leadership in the area of trade and needs to re-assume that leadership.
Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, says if the House does pass the combined measure on its return from the Senate the President would likely send up the Colombia, Panama and South Korea trade deals.
But the big question is will the House Republicans that are opposed to TAA approve the combined bill? Roberts isn't sure.
"We had some serious opposition to it over here," Roberts said. "I was not happy with that package, but there you are if we have to export two-thirds of our crop you're sort of stuck to say okay, we'll work with you the best we can."
Roberts wishes the President would just send the trade pacts to the Hill for ratification, separate from TAA, and stop blaming Congress for failing to pass the FTAs he hasn't submitted.Senator and former U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, R-Ohio, says doing so would stem market and job losses to trade competitors in the same countries. Senate trade Republicans are calling on the President to include the free trade agreements in his upcoming speech to Congress on jobs.