As I’ve been documenting, Republicans in both the House and Senate have been refusing to reauthorize an expired trade assistance program until after the Obama administration moves several pending free trade agreements forward. The administration, in turn, said that it won’t move the FTAs until trade assistance is reauthorized.
One of the loudest voices against renewing the trade assistance program — which helped more than 100,000 workers last year cope with job loss that was a result of international trade — has been Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “[Tying trade agreements] to unrelated spending is hugely disappointing to American workers, farmers, and job creators, who are losing out to foreign competitors with every passing day. It makes no sense to shut the door on increasing U.S. exports by over $10 billion in order to fund a costly program,” Hatch said earlier this month.
But Hatch now has another justification for allowing workers hurt by trade to fend for themselves. According to Hatch, the country simply can’t afford to help them:
“One of the reasons I don’t think this will pass, is they want $7.2 billion at a time when this country is basically broke,” Hatch said. “Why hold up three agreements that are beneficial to the American worker?”
To push for more free trade deals while refusing to authorize more trade assistance to help the inevitable victims of such trade is bad enough. But to use the canard of “we’re broke” to justify it is even worse.
After all, the country is not broke. As the Center for American Progress’ Michael Linden and Michael Ettlinger note, “The notion that the United States is ‘broke’ is a popular talking point for conservative lawmakers…But we’re not broke. Not at all. If we were, it would mean that we were out of money, unable to pay our bills, or meet our financial obligations. We are none of those things.” Bloomberg’s David Lynch added that the notion the U.S. is broke “is a widely shared view with just one flaw: It’s wrong.”
Hatch and the rest of the Republicans standing against reauthorizing trade assistance refuse to admit that free trade has a downside, and that the government has a responsibility to help those most affected. As Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), “they continue to want to do free trade on the cheap.”