Congress Passes Free Trade Deals

Who says Congress can’t do anything good? The House approved the three pending free trade deals yesterday, after they had already been voted through in the Senate:

The South Korea deal passed the Senate by a vote of 83 to 15, and the Panama deal passed 77 to 22. The agreement with Colombia, often considered the most controversial of the three, also passed with a solid majority with a vote of 66 to 33. The House approved the bills earlier in the evening with Korea receiving a vote of 278-151; Panama passed 300-129; and Colombia was approved by a strong margin of 262-167.

The deals will certainly be signed by the White House, so now the attention shifts to South Korea and their parliment, which has to approve the trade deal.

Of course, all this is not to say Congress can do anything perfect. In fact, the expansion of the TAA program as a part of these trade deals significantly lowers their positive impact. And there was plenty of debate on this front:

Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a friend of President Barack Obama’s from his home state of Illinois, called the Korea pact a “bad deal for American workers,” during debate Wednesday. Congressional Democratic leaders including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut opposed the president on the pacts.

Republicans and business-group backers, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, were almost united in support of the agreements. “Today, the House passed on a bipartisan basis some of the most important job-creating legislation in the last several years by approving our trade agreements,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.).

Yet some Republicans opposed the pacts because their states could be hurt by them. The deals will provide fresh competition to the U.S.’s already-battered textiles, electronics and manufacturing industries, a fact that drew at-times emotional protests from organized labor, factory workers and the legislators that represent them.

To soften the blow, Mr. Obama demanded that Congress renew Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that provides enhanced unemployment benefits to workers displaced by globalization. After months of delay, legislation renewing the program in a less-costly form was fast-tracked by Congress this week.

See the whole story from WSJ here.

See our comments on the three trade deals here: South Korea, Panama, Colombia.