The Senate has resolved a months-long impasse blocking ratification of free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Wednesday evening.
Reid and McConnell have agreed to move Trade Adjustment Assistance funding for displaced workers separately from the trade pact bills, they revealed in statements released jointly. President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats had demanded that the funding be attached to one of the pacts to ensure its passage, but sufficient Republican support to overcome a potential filibuster of the legislation has since materialized.
“My staff and Senator McConnell’s staff have been in discussions for weeks over the Trade Adjustment Assistance program and the three outstanding FTAs,” Reid said. “We believe those discussions have provided a path forward in the Senate after we return for passage of the bipartisan compromise on the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, followed by passage of the three FTAs. I do not support movement on the FTAs, which I have never supported, until TAA has passed.”
Added McConnell: “I agree with the Majority Leader that we have a path forward on TAA and the Free Trade Agreements. I have long supported passage of the long-delayed FTAs, and I know that I speak for many on my side of the aisle that we are eager to get moving and finally pass them.
“Although I do not personally support TAA, I know there is bipartisan support for this program.”
TAA funding and the trade pacts are expected to clear the House in similar fashion.
“Senate leaders have cleared an important hurdle,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “I look forward to the House passing the FTAs, in tandem with separate consideration of TAA legislation, as soon as possible.”
Although House Republicans always intended to clear the TAA and trade pact bills separately, the Obama administration and Senate Democrats were embroiled in a disagreement with Senate Republicans on this issue, with Democrats wanting TAA attached to one of the bills to guarantee its approval.
Democrats argued that Congressional precedent supported their position, while Republicans argued the move would be unusual. Meanwhile, the business community continued to push for ratification of the trade pacts in whatever manner might garner sufficient votes. In July, Republican Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Rob Portman (Ohio) announced that they had secured the necessary GOP support to overcome any filibuster of a stand-alone TAA bill that might occur.
Congress departed Washington, D.C., this week for the summer recess. However, both chambers remain in pro forma session.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.