Obama sends trade deals to Congress

@CNNMoney October 3, 2011: 5:45 PM ET

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- President Obama sent trade deals with Colombia, South Korea and Panama to Congress Monday afternoon, and the House is expected to vote on them as early as next week.

The U.S. agriculture industry has been calling for the deals, which could open up new international markets for high-quality beef, wheat and soybeans. The U.S. auto industry is also watching, as the deal with South Korea would mean tariffs aimed squarely at Detroit automakers would decline.

The White House, Republicans and big business groups say the deals will create jobs in the United States. The White House said the deals could spur $13 billion in new exports each year and "support tens of thousands of jobs," according to a senior administration official on Monday.

Union groups and some Democrats doubt that the deals will boost job creation, and oppose the deals.

The move to start work on the deals is significant, because trade deal supporters had feared the pacts were on the verge of becoming another casualty of political gridlock.

The Senate should vote on the bill later this month. If passed, the trade deals would join a lonely list of legislation that Congress has managed to pass into law this year.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Monday that he expects Congress to pass all three trade deals. And a congressional aide said the House would start working on the deals in committee this week with final passage next week.

"These three trade agreements will support American jobs and help create opportunities to expand for American businesses," said Speaker John Boehner in a statement.

An hour before the White House submitted the deals, the House moved forward on another bill, which then paved the way for trade deals.

The White House had been waiting to send the trade deals to Congress, because the president first wanted Congress to pass a bill funding a jobs retraining program called Trade Adjustment Assistance, which helps workers whose employers have moved jobs overseas.

Last month, the Senate passed the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which would cost $900 million over three years.

On Monday afternoon, House leaders added the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to their docket, meaning they could vote on the funding measure as early as this week. However, House Republicans say the program will get a vote when the trade deals get a vote.

Top Democrats such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have said they're not big fans of the deals.

Union groups say there's no proof that links trade deals to job growth. And they say the deals don't do enough to protect workers' rights in those nations.

But business groups from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Business Roundtable have ranked passage of those trade pacts among their top recommendations to spur job growth.

-- CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report. To top of page

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