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Administration: No Free-Trade Deals Without Worker Aid

Obama administration officials warned Monday that they will not send free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress until they have an agreement in place on a “robust” package to aid displaced workers.

In a conference call Monday morning, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Obama economic adviser Gene Sperling said they hope to reach a deal with Republicans soon to lock in the assistance for workers.

“We will not submit the [free-trade agreements] without an agreement on an enhanced [Trade Adjustment Assistance] program,” Kirk told reporters.

Kirk said that the agreements could be sent to Congress quickly if they can get an agreement.

All three trade deals have been completed and the language is being reviewed with the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, he said.

But an extension of broader assistance for workers displaced by trade, consistent with the enhanced package that was included as part of the stimulus package last year, must be included.

“We have to keep faith with America’s workers,” Kirk said.

That’s key to getting Democratic votes for free-trade deals, which usually need to be bipartisan to pass. And Kirk said that it also will be a key to maintaining bipartisan support for future trade deals.

The administration did not set a cost for the package they are seeking, adding that will be part of the discussions they have with Congress.

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