Yesterday, though, House Republicans looked for a moment like they would actually do something to help the jobless. The Trade Assistance Adjustment Program — which helps retrain workers who have lost their jobs due to trade — is going to expire on Saturday. House Republicans brought an extension of the program up for vote, since it has the backing of House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), but promptly pulled it in the face of a conservative backlash:
The extension hadn’t drawn significant controversy on Capitol Hill. The Republican chairman, Rep. Dave Camp, and the top Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin, on the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee are both from Michigan, and House Speaker John Boehner hails from hard-hit Ohio. The House was expected to pass an extension Tuesday afternoon, but GOP leaders pulled the measure from the floor, reportedly because of a dispute over whether the government was getting too involved in the economy.
The Hill reported today that pulling the bill may be “an effort to pressure the administration on the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements.” In fact, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has said that “he will block TAA until the White House vows to move the free trade agreement with Colombia.” The TAA program is also opposed by the Wall Street backed Club for Growth, which said that “our country can neither afford this program, nor should the government be in the business of providing such a benefit.”
But TAA has helped tens of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs due to the globalization of trade, through no fault of their own. According to Policy Matters Ohio, the Buckeye state alone had “208 groups with 26,427 workers certified for TAA,” from a variety of industries, including automakers and steelworkers.
U.S. job training programs clearly need to be retooled to better reflect the needs of a 21st century workforce and economy, as I discussed here. But that’s no reason to discard them completely, or to make reauthorizing them a condition of uncritically approving further job-sucking trade deals.