UPDATE 2-US lawmaker presses Obama to back trade deals plan

Wed Jul 27, 2011 2:07pm EDT

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(Updates throughout with quotes, background)

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON, July 27 (Reuters) - A top Republican lawmaker on Wednesday outlined a plan for winning approval of three long-delayed trade agreements and a worker retraining program the White House has insisted Congress pass along with them.

Representative Dave Camp, who chairs the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, urged President Barack Obama to back the step-by-step plan.

It is intended to assure Democrats that the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program for workers displaced by international trade would not be killed during action on the South Korea, Colombia and Panama deals.

"I think now we have set out a framework that is reasonable, that will ensure that TAA is done and that the agreements are voted on," Camp told reporters after a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"I'm hopeful that now that we have this path forward, (the White House) will sign on to it," Camp said.

But both a Senate Democratic aide and an Obama administration official said there still was no final agreement on the sequence for voting on TAA and the trade pacts in the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate.

Democrats view TAA as a vital part of the U.S. social safety net, while many Republicans -- especially those elected last year on promises to cut government spending -- question its effectiveness and cost.

"There have certainly been productive conversations with the leadership in both houses on a path to pass this job-creating trade package and ensure U.S. workers have the opportunities and training they need, but so far, there is not an agreement on a path forward," the Senate aide said.

Republicans objected to an earlier White House plan to include an extension of TAA in legislation implementing the South Korea free trade agreement.

Instead, they want a separate vote on the nearly 50-year-old program to help displaced workers.

BLOCK OR KILL

However, Democrats have feared Republicans could block or kill the TAA extension if it is not protected by the South Korea implementing bill, which under previously agreed rules for U.S. trade deals can not be amended.

The White House hopes a deal can soon be reached but submitting the trade agreements with TAA included "remains a possibility while we are in discussions on other possible approaches," an administration official said.

Last week, in an attempt to alleviate White House concerns about possible procedural hurdles in the Senate, 12 Republican senators said they were prepared to support TAA and vote against attempts to block action on the program.

Camp said the plan being discussed with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and leaders in both houses calls for the Senate to debate and vote on TAA before Obama formally submits the agreements to Congress.

Once the Senate has passed TAA, Obama would send up the trade deals and the House would begin action on both the pacts and the worker retraining program, he said.

"I think to get the most support we can for TAA we need to have the agreements sent up before the House votes on TAA," Camp said, explaining why the House could not approve the retraining program before Obama submits the pacts.

But a congressional source said many Democrats want the House to also approve the retraining program before Obama submits the trade deals.

They are worried House Speaker John Boehner does not have sufficient control of his fellow Republican members to ensure TAA gets through the House.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Vicki Allen)

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