U.S. lawmaker eyes trade deal with White House

* Lawmaker eyes “summer passage” of three free trade pacts

* Favors smaller version of Trade Adjustment Assistance

 

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans hope to reach a deal with the White House in coming weeks on a worker retraining program that would set the stage for President Barack Obama to send three free trade agreements to Congress for votes, a U.S. lawmaker said Thursday.

“There’s been a lot of discussions about the relationship between the three FTAs and renewing Trade Adjustment Assistance. Bottom line is we have to find, and we’re working very hard to find, a bipartisan solution on that,” Representative Kevin Brady told Reuters.

“We’re anticipating a June timetable for submittal of the agreements and we’re going to continue to move forward in anticipation of summer passage of the FTAs” with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, Brady said.

Brady said he expected the House Ways and Means Committee would soon hold an informal work session on the trade deals in anticipation of Obama sending them to Congress in mid-June.

But the Texas Republican, who chairs a House trade subcommittee, said a lot of work still had to be done to find a TAA compromise that would satisfy Republican critics and Democratic supporters.

“Clearly, many Republicans see (TAA) as expensive and not particularly effective and are demanding spending cuts to put our financial House in order,” he said.

“I do think a bipartisan solution will elude us as long Democrats in Congress and the White House insist on renewing the 2009 version of the TAA program,” instead of the less expensive version passed in 2002, Brady said.

The White House has insisted on a deal to renew TAA at or near levels approved in 2009 before it submits the trade deals to Congress for votes. The approximately $1 billion annual program provides funding to help retrain workers who have lost their jobs because of foreign competition.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Republican, is leading efforts to come up with a bipartisan deal, Brady said.

While House Democrats have demanded a five-year renewal of the program, Brady said any renewal should be short term so lawmakers can have “an adult conversation” about changes to make TAA work better.