Senate Finance panel reschedules FTA debate

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The Senate Finance committee plans to make another attempt to start informal debate on proposed trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama on July 7, after Republicans on the panel boycotted last week's meeting.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) on Wednesday urged his colleagues to move forward with the three George W. Bush-era trade pacts and to support renewed funding for a job retraining program, which has been a major point of dispute with Republican senators.

"We need to come together to move these three trade agreements and Trade Adjustment Assistance forward because American workers and small businesses simply cannot afford to wait any longer," Baucus said in announcing the committee meeting.

Republicans refused to show up for the debate last Thursday, objecting to Democrats' insistence on attaching funding for the program to help workers displaced by trade and complaining that they didn't have enough time to review the legislation.

Continued Republican resistance to linking the job retraining funds to the trade pacts has thrown into doubt a delicate bipartisan compromise reached for moving forward on the stalled trade agenda. The Obama administration has been insisting that expired funding for the retraining program be approved along with the three trade agreements.

In the House, the Ways and Means Committee will hold its own debate on the trade pacts at the same time Thursday, but without considering a renewal of Trade Adjustment Assistance. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said Tuesday the House committee's proposal is "at odds" with the administration's plans to get a package approved by Congress that includes the trade pacts and retraining program. He said the administration would provide the committee with language to renew Trade Adjustment Assistance.

The Republican moves are largely symbolic, as the informal proceedings amount to more of a test run for passing the trade agreements. The trade committees hold votes on amendments and make recommendations to the White House for the final implementing bill. The votes, which aren't binding, provide the last opportunity for congressional input before the trade deals are submitted for an up-or-down vote.



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