Back in February, House Republicans allowed an expansion of federal trade assistance to expire after new Tea Party members threw a fit about renewing spending for a program meant to aid workers who lose their jobs due to international trade. Workers who qualified under that particular expansion, which was funded by the 2009 Recovery Act, made up more than half of the 280,000 workers who benefited from trade assistance last year.
Republicans in the Senate then blocked consideration of the program’s renewal, saying they refused to move on it until several pending free trade agreements were approved. But at the same time that they have left the program to languish and die, Republicans have been making passionate defenses of it on behalf of their constituents, as the Hill found:
Several Republican lawmakers have sought help from a now-expired trade aid program that many in their party have bristled at reauthorizing. In letters and faxes sent to the Labor Department obtained by The Hill under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 11 Republicans in the House and Senate forwarded constituents’ pleas or outright supported their petitions for aid under the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. [...]
Many congressional aides dismissed the letters as constituent casework and not representative of where their lawmakers stand on renewing TAA. Nonetheless, several members made a forceful case for petitions to the trade aid program.
Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI), for instance, asked the Labor Department to approve a constituent’s request for benefits because, “until lawmakers are able to solve the trade problems to level the playing field … it is incumbent upon us to provide assistance for the families who suffer as a result [of] these practices and conditions.”
But when asked for comment, Duffy’s spokesman parroted the Republican line regarding moving the trade agreements forward. Others who sent letters to the Labor Department looking to aid constituents in obtaining benefits include House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
Regardless of the merits of the trade deals in question, trade assistance should be reauthorized. Inevitably, more free trade produces both winners and losers, and trade assistance helps those who wind up with the short straw. And as these letters make clear, several Republicans feel the same way, even as their party holds trade assistance benefits hostage.