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Senate GOP threatens to block Obama's Commerce pick

Senate Republicans are threatening to block Commerce Secretary nominee John Bryson's confirmation until President Obama sends three free-trade agreements to Congress for approval. At issue are agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea that were negotiated during the Bush administration.

The initial threat to block the eventual Commerce nominee over the trade agreements came in March -- in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, which was signed by 44 Senate Republicans. Aides to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said today the Senate GOP position remains the same.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters this afternoon that "technical discussions" with Congress are on-going, but it would be "folly" to hold up the Commerce Secretary nomination over the free-trade agreements.

Senate Republicans and the White House disagree over extending financial and other assistance to workers who lose their jobs or whose work is reduced by rising imports. This is known in Washington-speak as TAA -- Trade Adjustment Assistance. Parts of TAA expired in February.

Carney today said the White House believes renewal of TAA assistance should be part of congressional approval of the trade agreements. Republicans are reluctant, given the don't-spend-anymore-money climate in Congress.

At a Senate Finance Committee hearing last week, Ranking Member Orrin Hatch said TAA is too expensive and President Obama should drop his insistence that it be attached to the free-trade agreements.

"TAA, as I view it, is not going to pass in this Congress. And what I'm having trouble with is stopping these three trade agreements when you know that it isn't going to pass, especially in the form that you want it to pass, in 7.2 billion bucks over 10 years," he said.