* Donohue says "no excuse" for delaying trade deals
* Obama expected to submit Korea deal with TAA included
* Protesters rally near White House against Colombia pact
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, July 11 A top U.S. business leader
said on Monday he expected President Barack Obama to formally
submit free trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama
to Congress in coming days and urged their quick approval.
"We've waited for years to get those three free trade
agreements done. If we don't do that, it's criminal," Thomas
Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,
Donohue said "there is no excuse ... in either party" for
not quickly passing the deals.
But he stopped short of singling out Republicans for
holding up the pacts because of their objection to a White
House plan to include a worker retraining program, known as
Trade Adjustment Assistance, in the implementing legislation
for one of the pacts, the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement.
The disagreement over Trade Adjustment Assistance, a
decades-old program that provides retraining and income
assistance to workers who have lost their jobs because of
foreign competition, is the biggest issue left blocking
approval of the agreements.
Democrats view it as vital to help workers who lose their
jobs as a result of U.S. trade deals or companies moving
overseas. But a number of Republicans question the program's
effectiveness as well as its cost.
To address those concerns, the White House negotiated a
compromise that reduces the cost of TAA reforms adopted in
2009. It has signaled to business groups that it plans to
submit the Korea trade bill with the bipartisan TAA plan
included, consistent with a draft bill approved by the
Democratic-controlled Senate Finance Committee.
However, Republicans have pressed to have the two issues
considered separately, so a draft Korea trade bill approved by
the Republican-controlled House of Representatives Ways and
Means Committee does not include TAA.
Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate
Finance Committee, called for a meeting between House and
Senate negotiators to resolve the difference on TAA, rather
than leave it to the White House to decide.
But an Obama administration official, speaking on condition
of anonymity, said that was a stalling tactic.
"The Senate Finance Committee has produced a vehicle that
moves the three trade agreements and resolves the outstanding
issue of the bipartisan TAA compromise. We believe it is time
to stop delaying these job-supporting agreements and TAA and
move forward as soon as possible," the official said.
House Ways and Means Committee spokesman Jim Billimoria
said the panel's top Republicans were "continuing to have a
wide range of discussions with the administration, leadership,
and the Senate in the hopes of identifying a path forward."
Donohue said he expected the House to take the Korea bill
that Obama submits and divide it into two sections, one
covering TAA and the other the agreement itself, so lawmakers
could vote separately on each issue.
Then, "I'm very hopeful they'll put them together when they
send it to the Senate," Donohue said, though that would deny
Senate Republicans the opportunity to vote separately on TAA
and the trade pact, as leaders there have demanded.
TAA supporters believe House Speaker John Boehner could
divide the Korea bill into two parts without the legislation
losing its current protection against amendments.
But they want him to stitch the Korea bill back together
when he sends it to the Senate because that's where the greater
threat to TAA is seen.
Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of General Electric Co and head of
President Barack Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness,
also urged quick final action on the deals, which were all
signed more than four years ago under former President George
W. Bush's administration.
"With every day that passes, these are opportunities lost,"
Immelt told reporters after a speech at the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce headquarters. Right now, the bills are "late, stuck
and at the risk going nowhere," he said.
Earlier, scores of protesters held a rally against the
Colombia free trade agreement across the street from the White
House, making speeches and chanting slogans.
They displayed 51 black cardboard "coffins" to symbolize
the number of union workers they said had been murdered in
Colombia in the past year.
Many Democrats remain concerned about Colombia's long
history of anti-union violence and record on workers rights,
even though the Obama administration has negotiated an "action
plan" with Bogota to address those issues.
"The action plan is a sham. No FTA," the protesters
chanted, expressing their opposition to the measure.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Christopher Wilson)