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Congress approves free trade accords with three U.S. allies

WASHINGTON — Congress last week finalized free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, deals intended to increase exports and expand economic relationships with the U.S. allies.

President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans backed the trade bills as spurs for job creation. Democrats were split, with opponents arguing that the agreements fail to protect workers and will encourage corporations to send more jobs overseas.

The agreements are designed to ease barriers to trade by eliminating tariffs, import quotas and most other protectionist preferences on goods traded between the partners.

Counting those newly approved, the United States has 15 free trade relationships in place with 20 countries, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with Canada and Mexico. Among others are deals with Peru, Singapore, Israel, Jordan, Australia and one covering the Dominican Republic and five nations in Central America.

■ The trade agreement with South Korea was passed 83-15 in the Senate. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for it. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted against it. The House passed the South Korea bill, 278-151. Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., voted for it. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted against it.

■ The Colombia agreement passed the Senate, 66-33. Heller voted for it while Reid voted against it. It passed the House, 262-167. Heck and Amodei voted for it, while Berkley voted against it.

■ The Senate passed the Panama agreement, 77-22. Heller voted for it while Reid voted against it. The House passed the Panama bill, 300-129. Heck and Amodei voted for it. Berkley voted against it.

SENATE VOTES ON CHINA CRACKDOWN

The Senate voted 63-35 for a bill that presses the Obama administration to crack down on China’s practice of manipulating its currency to gain an advantage in U.S. trade.

The measure calls for new tariffs on goods imported from China. Experts calculated that China’s monetary policy amounts to a subsidy of 20 percent to 30 percent on products sold to the United States, while making U.S. goods that much more expensive to buy in China.

The bill drew support from both parties, as senators argued China’s actions were costing thousands of U.S. jobs.

Opponents said poking China on its currency might risk a trade war that could backfire on the United States. Obama also expressed reservations about the bill, although he stopped short of saying he would veto it. Some advocated enlisting other nations in a co­ordinated pressure effort.

Reid voted for the bill. Heller voted against it.

OBAMA JOBS PACKAGE SHELVED

Senate Republicans banded together to shelve Obama’s $447 billion “American Jobs Act,” which offered a combination of payroll tax cuts, business tax credits and public works spending to boost the economy.

Republicans and two Democrats provided the margin when the Senate tallied 50-49 on a procedural vote that sidetracked the bill because 60 votes were needed to move it forward.

Critics said the Obama plan echoed the 2009 stimulus bill that they say did not reduce unemployment. They also balked at supporting a package that would be offset by new taxes, even as Democrats amended it so the tax burden would fall mainly on people earning $1 million or more.

Heller voted to shelve the bill. Reid, the Senate majority leader, voted for it, but then switched and voted against it in a procedural move that would allow him to call it up for further votes at a future time.

Democrats plan to reintroduce the legislation in narrow segments that might draw more support than the broader overall package.

ANTI-ABORTION BILL PASSES

The House voted 251-172 to bar federal money from funding any part of a health insurance plan that covers abortion.

Supporters said the bill would close “loopholes” in the Affordable Care Act, the major health care reform bill in the process of being implemented. It also aims to prevent the government from discriminating against medical providers that refuse to perform abortions.

Opponents, mostly Democrats, said the bill was a further attack on women and a waste of time since it will not advance in the Senate.

Heck and Amodei voted for the bill. Berkley voted against it.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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