The all-consuming negotiations in Washington on the nation's debt and deficit may not leave any time this summer for Congress to finalize a trio of free trade agreements backed by most lawmakers and billed by the White House as job creators.
Congress is set to begin its summer recess on Aug. 6. A congressional aide said the Obama administration might delay sending final legislation on trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Capitol Hill until September. A second source familiar with the discussions also said the deals could be pushed back until September.
The officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publically about the discussions.
White House chief of staff Bill Daley said Tuesday that the administration would send the trade deals to Congress "very soon", though he didn't know if they would be approved by the August recess.
President Barack Obama has been urging Congress to pass the trade deals as soon as possible, but the administration has yet to send final legislation on the agreements to Capitol Hill. The White House wants to ensure that a package of retraining assistance for American workers displaced by trade deals is alongside the three agreements.
With Congress focused on the nation's debt limit and government spending, lawmakers have had far less time to clear a path for the trade deals and the worker's assistance program.
The longer the trade deals languish, the more uncertain their future. Political considerations could make it difficult for Obama to reintroduce the pacts in a re-election year. Unions and labor leaders _ both are core constituencies for the president _ are largely opposed to the free trade agreements
The business community is pushing for swift action in finalizing the agreements, especially now that the European Union has implemented its own free trade agreement with South Korea, allowing the EU greater access to the booming Asian nation.
"While Washington debates and delays, the rest of the world is moving forward," said John Murphy, vice president of International Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "It's becoming absolutely excruciating for the business community."
All three trade agreements were signed during the George W. Bush administration, but none of them advanced in the Democratic-controlled Congress.
The Obama administration moved to renegotiate key elements of all three deals, gaining commitments from South Korea to improve access to U.S. autos, from Panama to change laws that fostered tax havens, and from Colombia to improve its labor rights record.