Back in February, congressional Republicans allowed a key trade assistance program to expire, blocking tens of thousands of workers who have lost their jobs due to international trade from accessing benefits. President Obama, in turn has said that he will not submit new trade agreements to Congress until it revives the trade assistance program.
But Republicans are digging their heels in against reauthorizing a program to help the workers who inevitably end up on the short end of the stick when it comes to free trade deals. Today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) went so far as to claim that trade assistance has no place in negotiations over free trade agreements:
This morning I’m calling on the administration once again to send us the three pending trade agreements that the president himself has said would create tens of thousands of American jobs and to leave Trade Adjustment Assistance out of it.
McConnell is not the only one utterly indifferent to the plight of workers who lose their jobs due to trade pacts. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said that trade assistance shouldn’t be reauthorized because “we’re broke.”
But while Republicans are content to demagogue trade assistance on the floors of Congress, back home is another story. Several Republicans lawmakers have sought help from the Labor Department or have supported constituent petitions for a program that the GOP allowed to expire. As The Hill noted, these GOP members “made a forceful case for petitions to the trade aid program.”
In a statement to ThinkProgress, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a staunch supporter of trade assistance, said, “it’s unconscionable — and bad for our economic recovery efforts — to turn our backs on workers looking to retrain for new work after losing their jobs to unfair foreign trade with countries like China. Yet too many Washington politicians have obstructed extension of trade adjustment assistance, while arguing for more-of-the-same free trade agreements.”
Indeed, international trade pacts produce winners and losers, and the government has a responsibility to help those who lose their livelihood through no fault of their own. But the GOP wants only to talk about the positive aspects of trade, while pretending that the negative aspects simply don’t exist.