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No One Wants to Tout Free-Trade Agreements

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor briefly praised the free-trade pacts Tuesday but focused on the GOP’s regulatory agenda and the president’s jobs bill.

Hoyer noted that his colleagues widely object to the Colombia deal, given that country’s history of violence against labor leaders, and he used his weekly briefing to offer sharp criticism of Republicans on jobs. The No. 2 House Democrat challenged the GOP to bring Obama’s jobs proposal to the floor, even as it was poised for defeat in the Senate, and he complained that Republicans are pushing political messaging bills rather than measures that could boost the economy.

“Republicans are pushing bills day after day, week after week, month after month, for the last nine months that they know are not going to pass the United States Senate, yet there’s no pushback,” Hoyer said.

Yet the trade bills represent one of those rare instances where the House, Senate and White House all pushed for a remarkably similar legislative package, itself worth noting.

Obama mentioned the trade deals in his jobs speech before a joint session last month, telling Members, “If Americans can buy Kias and Hyundais, I want to see folks in South Korea driving Fords and Chevys and Chryslers.”

Still, Republicans have criticized Obama for not submitting the deals sooner. He officially submitted them last week, a formality after the behind-the-scenes negotiating was done. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), meanwhile, has said she would prefer to see the House approve legislation on China currency manipulation before considering the trade bills.

Rep. Sander Levin, ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, also sought to push the China currency bill Tuesday, placing more focus on that measure during a briefing with reporters than the trade bills that came out of his own committee. But the Michigan Democrat hailed his party for successfully pushing for key changes in the South Korea measure regarding automotive markets, and he declared, “If it weren’t for House Democrats, we would not be taking up these revised bills.”

But asked if similar bipartisan exchanges would be the new norm when it comes to economic bills, many of which come out of his committee, Levin was doubtful.

“These FTAs have their own history,” he said. “So I think it’s a little hard to draw any specific lesson as to future legislation. But when it comes to trade ... hope rings eternal.”

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