Boehner, McConnell Applaud Obama’s Free-Trade Pacts

Posted October 3, 2011 at 6:50pm

Republican leaders offered qualified praise to President Barack Obama today after he sent up a trio of trade bills that could win Congressional approval before the end of the month.

Both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) thanked the president for submitting the pending free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea while criticizing him for not moving sooner.

“Submission of these long-delayed deals is welcome news to those Americans looking for work and to job creators who have waited too long for fair access to these foreign markets,” McConnell said in a statement that echoed Boehner’s sentiments in a separate news release.

The pending free-trade agreements, as well as a bill that would provide expanded benefits to workers displaced by such trade deals, are central to Obama’s jobs plan and will likely win bipartisan support in both chambers. But Obama’s move to send up the agreements came after months of negotiations, and he will likely face defections from his own party.

Still, a senior White House official maintained that the agreements would win bipartisan support in both chambers.

“The Speaker has indicated that he expects all four to reach the president’s desk,” the official said today during a call with reporters. “Our folks are working on the Hill together to make sure there’s broad support.”

The key sticking point holding up the agreements negotiated under President George W. Bush was Trade Adjustment Assistance for displaced workers. The Obama administration and Republicans eventually cut a deal for the three trade bills to be approved in exchange for reviving some of its benefits that had lapsed. TAA has long been a top priority for unions, Democrats and Rust Belt Republicans.

In a memo today, the White House again underscored the need for Congress to approve the program. 

“Renewal of that program is necessary to support Americans who need training and other services when their jobs are adversely affected by trade,” the White House memo said. “As we expand access to other markets abroad, we need to ensure that American workers are provided the tools needed to take advantage of these opportunities and are not left behind in the global economy.”

In a sign of good faith, the House Rules Committee approved a rule just hours after Obama submitted the agreements, teeing up floor consideration of the TAA legislation, which could happen as early as this week. Republican aides predicted that the free-trade bills could be on the floor by next week.

The Senate passed TAA legislation last month in a bipartisan vote that garnered support from 77 Members. From that showing in the Senate, a senior White House official said, “We expect [TAA] to have bipartisan support in the House as well.”