House panel delays action on U.S. free-trade deals

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2011 3:44 PM
House panel delays action on U.S. free-trade deals

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican plans for action this week on three long-delayed U.S. free-trade agreements fell through on Tuesday in the absence of a deal to renew a retraining program for U.S. workers displaced by trade.

Sarah Swinehart, a Republican spokeswoman for the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, said the earliest the panel was now expected to begin action on the pacts is July since the House is not in session next week.

The delay could make it more difficult for the full House and Senate to vote on the pacts before lawmakers recess for the month of August. However, once a deal on Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) falls into place, the agreements could move quickly to final approval.

The White House has told Congress it will not send the three pacts up for votes until there is a deal to renew TAA at or near the roughly $1 billion annual level approved in 2009. However, many Republicans are skeptical of the program's effectiveness and are demanding spending cuts.

The nearly 50-year-old program was expanded in 2009 to cover more workers who have lost their jobs because of import competition or workplaces relocating overseas. It provides retraining assistance and help with health-care expenses.

Last week, Representative Kevin Brady said he expected the Ways and Means Committee to hold an informal working session known as a "non-markup" this week to consider draft legislation to implement the three free trade agreements.

That is a traditional step before the White House submits final implementing legislation to Congress.

Once that happens, lawmakers would have 90 days to approve or reject the three agreements without making any changes under previously agreed "fast track" rules for trade deals.

A House Republican aide said lawmakers remain optimistic about getting a deal on TAA that would allow the trade pacts to proceed. The Senate is in session next week, so there could be progress in that chamber while the House is away.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Todd Eastham)