The Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means Committees met separately on Thursday to discuss the free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Expansion of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program was also on the Senate Finance agenda. Both committees approved the three trade deals, clearing the way for the President to submit the deals to the Hill for votes. Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus, D-Mont., called passage of the bills a major victory for American ranchers, farmers, workers and businesses who have waited far too long for action.
It wasn't smooth sailing though. Ways and Means Democrats objected to the lack of TAA, while Senate Finance Republicans objected to the inclusion of TAA in the Korea bill. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the TAA program needs to be voted on separately from the trade deals and said it was a violation of the process to put the TAA program in an implementing bill.
In the end Senate Finance turned back Republican amendments to extend Presidential fast track authority for two and four years and to destroy TAA in the Korea FTA, while majority Republicans in the House Ways and Means turned back a Democrat amendment to include worker assistance.
The passage of the mock markup by both Senate Finance and House Ways and Means clears the way for the President to formally submit the deals to the Hill for up or down votes with no amendments under so-called fast track rules.
GOP talks continue with the White House to work out party differences that could still cause problems later, but Senator John Thune, R-S.D., says the day was a big victory for agriculture - which has lost market share as the trade deals have languished.
"In the last two years alone we have seen wheat exports to Colombia collapse, literally collapse," Thune said. "Once the agreement between Canada and Colombia goes into effect on Aug. 15 I think that market is going to evaporate entirely for American exporters."
Senate Finance narrowly defeated an amendment by Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to force the White House to re-engage Japan and China on barriers to U.S. beef.
Majority Republicans on House Ways and Means turned back a Democrat amendment to include worker assistance. Trade Subcommittee Chair Kevin Brady, R-Texas, stressed the need to get the FTAs done arguing that it will only get worse next month when Canadian wheat gains a tariff advantage in Colombia. And based on tariff scheduling issues, the FTAs would take effect no earlier than Jan. 1even if they're ratified this summer.