- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The House Republican point man on taxes and trade said Wednesday it is unlikely that three long-stalled free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama will be passed anytime soon, because the same lawmakers that are pushing the pacts are preoccupied with the fight over raising the federal debt limit.

“I think they’re distracted with the debt issues,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, told business leaders at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a breakfast address. “I think they’re passed after the debt limit.”

Senate Republicans have pushed for a vote before the month-long congressional recess set to start Aug. 8, but Obama administration officials last week said the vote would be pushed off to the fall. The agreements would be the first major trade deals approved since Mr. Obama took office in 2009, and have strong backing from major business groups.

Mr. Camp said Senate Democrats and House Republicans are ready to compromise on funding for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program that had been holding up the deals, but the White House still has not formally submitted the three pacts to Congress.

Under the new plan, the Senate would first pass a TAA package and then send it over to the House, where they would vote on the FTAs and TAA separately.

Mr. Camp called for business leaders to “increase the pressure” on the Obama administration to move the trade agreements forward.

“We need to get the White House to send up the agreements,” he said. “Washington must act, and we must act now. We cannot afford to let these languish any longer.”