The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens

Senate Finance, House Ways and Means move FTAs forward


In “mock markups” to advise the Obama administration on implementing legislation, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee today approved the Korea, Panama and Colombia free trade agreements without amendments, and Senate Finance also approved an extension of trade adjustment assistance for workers and farmers who have been hurt by trade agreements.

Voting was mostly along party lines. In Senate Finance, Democrats approved an administration proposal to include trade adjustment assistance in the same bill as the Korean agreement, even though Republicans opposed the inclusion of TAA.

Baucus said that, while he had included TAA in the Korea free trade agreement bill for the markup, “that does not foreclose discussion of other options for extending TAA. I remain open to those options as long as they provide certainty that the bipartisan TAA deal will be enacted in tandem with the FTAs.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., did not include TAA, but said that if the administration would send the Korean and TAA bills separately, he would see that they are marked up the same day.

The agreements were concluded under fast track or trade promotion authority, and the House and Senate must vote up or down on the bills the Obama administration submits to Congress. But ultimate authority on how to handle the agreements on the House floor rests with House Speaker John Boehner, Camp said.

In both committees, Democrats also proposed amendments to require Colombia to comply with the labor action plan, but the amendments failed. While Democrats noted that there continue to be killings of labor leaders in Colombia, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said he had learned on trips to the South American country that it had changed a lot since novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about it.

“They have come back so far,” Baucus said, adding that it would be “a tragedy” not to pass the free trade agreement after all recent Colombian leaders have done to improve their country.

Baucus said that President Obama had promised that he would not allow the Colombia agreement to go into effect until that country has compiled with the labor action plan.

“That's good enough for me," Baucus said.

But Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who has a strong labor constituency, joined Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Charles Schumer of New York, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine in voting against the Colombia agreement. But the Colombia measure passed 17 to 6.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, offered several proposals to remove the TAA language, and Republicans also offered amendments to make changes in Medicare and Medicaid on the grounds that the offset to pay for the TAA portion of the bill comes partly from Medicare.

Baucus ruled those amendments nongermane and votes that needed a two-thirds majority to overturn Baucus’s ruling failed.

After the votes, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a news release, “The Senate Finance Committee took a significant step today to enable the formal submission of the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia, by voting to advance those agreements along with a responsible, cost-effective renewal of trade adjustment assistance. The House Ways and Means Committee has also now considered the pending trade agreements, and we appreciate the numerous statements of support from that committee for the bipartisan TAA compromise as well. We are eager to advance a balanced trade agenda that supports tens of thousands of well-paying jobs through increased exports to Korea, Colombia, and Panama, and that restores faith with those Americans who may be adversely affected by trade. We look forward to continuing to work with Congressional leaders toward that objective.”