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House Passes Trade Pacts in Bipartisan Vote

The House voted today to approve three pending free-trade agreements, a rare show of bipartisan unity in an otherwise divided Congress.

The Senate is expected to also approve the measures today, sending them to President Barack Obama.

The trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea are central to the job plans of both Obama and House Republicans. In a victory for Obama, the House also passed a measure that would provide expanded benefits to workers displaced by such trade deals. The president had insisted on the Trade Adjustment Assistance legislation before he submitted the free-trade deals to Congress.

Members of both parties took to the floor before the late-afternoon vote to tout the measures and the bipartisan effort to bring them to the floor.

“Our actions today are proof that when we look for common ground and work together, we can produce results,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said. The Virginia Republican called on Senate Democrats and Obama to help pass “other pro-growth measures to help the American people get back to work.”

The House is taking steps on other measures outlined in Obama’s jobs plan. The Ways and Means Committee will mark up legislation Thursday that would grant a 3 percent withholding provision for government contractors. That measure, plus another that would increase small-business owners’ access to capital, could see floor action after next week’s recess.

Not everyone cheered approval of the three trade agreements today. “I oppose [the bills] because it’ll devastate our manufacturing sector at a time when we need to build it,” Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) said on the floor.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) used her floor time to promote a China currency manipulation bill, which she urged her colleagues to take up before considering the free-trade bills. The Senate passed its version of the currency bill Tuesday night, and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) is sponsoring similar legislation.

Still, an attempt by Levin to add currency manipulation language to the Colombia free-trade bill, which he opposes, was defeated 192-236 before the House moved on to the free-trade bill votes.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who presided in the chair during a portion of the debate over the free-trade agreements, said the chamber’s action should be cause for more bipartisan efforts to boost the economy, particularly because Senate Democrats were unable to win the votes to move a version of Obama’s jobs plan Tuesday night.

“We’re going to continue to work with the president in order to create a better environment,” Boehner said at a news conference. “Not everything the president outlined is something that we agree with; certainly not everything that we’ve outlined is something the president would agree with. But our job on behalf of the American people is to find common ground and to do our best for them, and we will continue to do that.”

The House passed the Colombia pact by a vote of 262-167, the Panama pact 300-129 and the South Korea pact 278-151, and the Senate could vote on them before the end of the day. The House cleared the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill 307-122, sending it to the president.

The action came ahead of a visit by South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday.

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