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Obama Faces Pressure on Trade Deals

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The Obama administration and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk are facing heat from House Republicans over not moving quicker on a trade agreement with Colombia.

Baucus and other pro-trade Democrats hope once the trade agreements are sent to the Hill they will sail through both chambers, given the trade-friendlier Republican majority in the House.

In the House, Obama's lack of action on trade has also frustrated lawmakers, particularly Republicans.

Last week, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) dismissed the administration's agenda as inadequate.

"The President's Agenda fails to lay out a concrete plan for generating good U.S. jobs by advancing our pending trade agreements with Colombia and Panama," Camp said in a statement. "Despite repeated bipartisan requests, the Administration has once again declined to clearly identify the outstanding issues, reasonable steps that can be taken to address those issues, and a timeframe for resolution."

The powerful Republican also criticized a lack of urgency in passing trade deals.

"The President's Agenda shows no sense of urgency, even while acknowledging a clear reason for urgency – that U.S. businesses, workers, farmers, and ranchers are increasingly disadvantaged as Colombia and Panama implement trade agreements with other countries. As I have said repeatedly, I want to see all three agreements considered by July 1."

Likewise, Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady (Texas) also questioned Obama's commitment to free trade.

"I am puzzled why the White House continues to ignore clear bipartisan calls from Congress to promptly identify and address any outstanding issues related to the Colombia and Panama trade agreements. The time for action is now. The continued delays are inexcusable," Brady said.

Obama is also under pressure from the House's freshmen class of conservatives.

Last week, 67 of the 87 freshmen signed a letter to the White House calling on Obama to immediately begin work on moving the Colombia, Panama and South Korean trade agreements.

In the letter, which was spearheaded by Republican Reps. Tom Reed (N.Y.) and Rick Berg (N.D.), the freshmen wrote, "We are committed to working with you to develop a comprehensive trade agenda. We believe the first step in that process is to move forward on our agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea without delay. Our economy and our job market cannot afford anything less than swift and decisive action."

The interest in trade issues is unusual for freshmen, GOP aides said, noting that it is particularly rare for conservative newcomers to the chamber to back free-trade agreements as aggressively as this year's class has.

Much of the 1994 class of GOP revolutionaries came into office in part on a platform that was harshly critical of the North American Free-Trade Agreement, which had been passed after a long and bitter fight between the Clinton administration and traditional Republicans on one side and conservative and progressive Democratic opponents on the other.

Part of the reason for their support, aides said, stems from the rural nature of many of their districts, all of which have come to rely on export of goods as a prime source of income.

Additionally, aides pointed to Rules Chairman David Dreier (Calif.) as a contributing factor, noting that he had worked with freshmen to help educate them on the economic and job-creation issues related to the deals.

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