White House and congressional negotiators appear “within striking distance” of a deal on a retraining program that has held up votes on trade deals with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday.
Tom Donohue, president of the business group, said it was ready to spend on lobbying and advertising to win approval of the three long-delayed agreements.
The Obama administration, after working with South Korea, Panama and Colombia to resolve issues blocking approval, told Republicans it would not send the pacts to Congress for a vote without a deal to renew a 2009 expansion of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to help retrain workers displaced by trade.
The expanded benefits expired this year and many Republicans object to continuing TAA at the 2009 level when Congress is under pressure to cut the huge U.S. budget deficit. The expanded program costs about $1 billion a year.
The negotiators appear to be close to a “fiscally responsible” deal consistent with the 2009 reforms, said John Murphy, a vice president at the Chamber of Commerce.
“We believe the gap between them is bridgeable,” Murphy told reporters at a news conference with Donohue to discuss the group’s strategy for winning approval of the free trade deals.
With union groups rolling out ads against them, Donohue was asked how much the Chamber of Commerce was prepared to spend.
“I don’t know how much money we’re spending. How much it takes,” Donohue said, adding the group has been lobbying for years on the deals originally signed during the administration of President George W. Bush.