Politico reports that Congressional leaders and the President have reached a deal that would allow a number of free trade agreements to move forward, along with a renewal of trade adjustment assistance for workers who lose their jobs due to outsourcing or overseas trade.

That deal could lead to a breakthrough on long-stalled U.S. trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. Those agreements were initially negotiated under President George W. Bush and have been strongly opposed by organized labor and many House Democrats. But this time around they are expected to receive broad backing from House Republicans and a bipartisan Senate coalition.

Rep. Sander Levin, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee said Monday in a Capitol speech that the trade package “might be available in the next day.”

Other sources cautioned that earlier expectations of a deal have proved premature, and the complexities of free trade deals mean that any number of glitches can derail negotiations.

It’s true that these deals have been expected for months, and they never seem to materialize. But this seems a bit more serious than the earlier reports.

Under the deal, the three trade agreements which both Republicans and the President support would be forwarded, along with trade adjustment assistance, which expired in February. The Colombia Free Trade Agreement has been linked to an “action plan” designed to increase worker’s rights in one of the most dangerous nations in the world for trade unionists. But Republicans failed to link the action plan to the agreement, which means the two would have to progress on a separate track. That could prove difficult for the Colombia agreement, while Sander Levin (D-MI), the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said that the agreements for Panama and South Korea looked to have smoother sailing.

It’s unclear whether trade adjustment assistance, which is a fairly minimal funding request, would have to be offset by other spending cuts. That would be needed under House rules, but those could be waived in a final deal.

House Democrats have a different trade agenda. They’ve been trying to put together a discharge petition for a Chinese currency manipulation bill, which would impose tariffs on Chinese goods if they fail to allow their currency to appreciate. That would seem to be a real compromise, the Chinese currency bill in exchange for the trade agreements and trade adjustment assistance. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the plan.

…see Marcy on this as well. The labor protections for Colombian workers have been withdrawn from the deal, in effect.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal adds that “Renewal of two programs providing preferential tariff treatment for certain goods from Andean nations to the U.S. will be included in the Colombia bill.”

David Dayen

David Dayen

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