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Still no path to approve trade bills: senator

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House and Congress have failed to reach a deal to ease the passage of three long-delayed free trade agreements when lawmakers return from recess in September, a top senator said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, said in a statement late Tuesday that Congress would go on its summer break without resolving a dispute over Trade Adjustment Assistance that is blocking approval of the pacts.

"It is past time to come together to pass this package of Trade Adjustment Assistance and the free trade agreements to boost our economy and create jobs here at home," Baucus said.

"Finding common ground to pass this package must be a top priority when we return in September," he said.

But a spokesman for Representative Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, said the path forward was "well known" and only took a "simple nod of the head from the White House" to put the plan into action.

The White House had hoped to win approval of the trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama before the August congressional recess, but the dispute over trade adjustment help thwarted that.

The acrimonious negotiations over raising the debt ceiling also stymied efforts to reach a compromise.

Many Republicans believe the nearly 50-year-old program for retraining workers who have lost their jobs because of foreign competition is costly and ineffective.

They have demanded a separate vote on the program, as opposed to the White House plan to include an extension of the assistance in legislation on the South Korea pact.

Last week, Camp outlined a step-by-step plan for approving TAA and the trade bills that would begin with Senate action on the retraining program. Once that was completed, President Barack Obama would send the trade pacts to Congress and the House would consider them along with TAA.

"The path forward is well known, and the Senate and White House's refusal to move down it is giving what could be American jobs away to the Europeans and Canadians," Camp spokesman Jim Billimoria said.

Billmoria's comments referred to a rival trade deal between the European Union and South Korea that went into force on July 1 and a second pact between Canada and Colombia that takes effect the middle of this month.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Vicki Allen and Jackie Frank)