Obama Scores A Victory As Congress Approves Free Trade Agreements

Posted on October 14, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

by Caren Z. Turner

The House and Senate yesterday soundly approved free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, handing President Obama a rare legislative victory. Among the three trade agreements, the South Korea agreement is the most significant to be approved by Congress since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico in 1994. It is expected to boost U.S. exports by more than $12 billion, and could potentially create as many as 280,000 American jobs, according to a recent assessment by the staff of the U.S. International Trade Commission.

With the agreements now ratified by both chambers of Congress, they will be sent to President Obama to be signed. The timing is rather apropos: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is visiting the White House today, and will address a joint session of Congress this afternoon.

“I look forward to signing these agreements, which will help achieve my goal of doubling American exports and keeping America competitive in the 21st century,” Obama said in a statement late yesterday. “Tonight’s vote, with bipartisan support, will significantly boost exports that bear the proud label ‘Made in America,’ support tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs and protect labor rights, the environment and intellectual property.”

The free-trade agreements were negotiated by President George W. Bush, but stalled in legislative process for the past few years due to opposition from Democrats and labor organizations who believed the deals would be bad for American workers. The White House finally submitted the trade agreements to Congress after agreeing to include the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program, which softens the blow on increased imports by offering retraining and temporary income support to workers who lose their jobs as a result of the trade deals.

The trade agreements received broad Republican support, and divided Democratic support.

“Tonight’s vote is good for our country, it’s good for our countries, but it’s also good for America’s role in the world because it shows the United States Congress can move forward on these issues,” said Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who negotiated the deals under the Bush administration. “I think this will send a positive message around the world that the United States wants to be engaged and involved in trade.”

“This is just long overdue,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on the House floor before the vote. “This creates jobs.”

“I am totally opposed to agreements that trade good American jobs for no jobs, and I have yet to see a free trade bill that is a fair trade bill,” said Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who voted no on all three deals.

House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sandy Levin (D-MI) strongly supported the South Korea deal and argued several times that it would be a win for U.S. auto makers.

“This is a jobs bill,” Levin said. “We have to be able to compete, and our auto industry can now compete.”

The vote tally was as follows:

South Korea Agreement ….. HOUSE: 278-151 / SENATE: 83-15

Colombia Agreement ….. HOUSE: 262-167 / SENATE: 66-33

Panama Agreement ….. HOUSE: 300-129 / SENATE: 77-22

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2 Responses to “Obama Scores A Victory As Congress Approves Free Trade Agreements”

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This is great news, especially for jobs. I’m sure the administration will take credit for it, but should something go wrong, they’ll look to blame Bush for negotiating them in the first place. Regardless of politics, it is a win for the American people, if in fact it can create jobs.

Jennifer Schaus,
Washington DC

Free Trade for Colombia, Panama, and South Korea is a victory for job creation? NAFTA was a victory for job creations? I would like to see proof of any job creation success records in either of these steps for creating jobs within the United States.

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