Trade Votes Needed in U.S. Congress by August, Hatch Says

Pending free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea must be voted on in Congress quickly, or risk never being approved, said Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican.

“If we do not have an opportunity to vote on these agreements this summer, I am afraid we never will,” Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said today at a hearing on the Korean deal.

Hatch and Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, are split on the issue now delaying these pacts: renewing trade adjustment assistance for workers who lose their jobs because of overseas competition. Baucus said aid for service workers, which was put in place in 2009 and expired in February, must be extended as part of a package of measures to approve the trade pacts.

“Either they all pass, or none of them pass,” Baucus, the panel’s chairman, said today. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said he wants the worker aid approved by Congress and signed into law before any votes on the free-trade pacts.

Hatch questioned the worker aid, adding that the merits aside, “we don’t have the votes to do this.”

“One of the reasons I don’t think this will pass, is they want $7.2 billion at a time when this country is basically broke,” Hatch said. “Why hold up three agreements that are beneficial to the American worker?”

Meanwhile, senators such as Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry said that delaying approval of the South Korean accord may give competitors on Europe a leg up on U.S. exporters.

“The longer we delay the harder it is to retain our competitive advantage,” Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said.

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