WASHINGTON (AP) - A House committee vote Wednesday set in motion the final act of the long drama of approving free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
The Ways and Means Committee votes for the three agreements set the stage for full House approval next week and Senate votes in the near future.
The committee action came just two days after President Barack Obama submitted the deals to Congress for final approval, and reflected the desire to move swiftly on trade deals that both the White House and most members of Congress say could mean a significant boost in U.S. exports and create tens of thousands of jobs.
That speed comes after years of delay. All three agreements were signed during the George W. Bush administration, but the Obama White House refused to send them to Congress until it renegotiated key issues, specifically on access to South Korea for U.S. automakers and Colombia's protections for labor rights.
The White House also held up the deals until it was assured that Congress would act to extend expired provisions of a program that offers retraining and financial benefits for workers displaced by foreign competition. The Senate last week passed the worker aid bill, and the House plans to take it up next week in conjunction with the trade deals.
"For the past five years we have been working towards this day," Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Republican, said. With the nation's high unemployment rate, "we must look at all opportunities to create American jobs. These agreements do just that."
All four bills are expected to pass by comfortable margins.