For months, Senate Republicans have been carping that the administration was not moving fast enough in submitting free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama for congressional consideration. And one of the loudest voices in favor of moving the agreements has been Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “We need to change course. And a good place to start is with trade,” McConnell said just a few weeks ago.
The administration had been refusing to move the pacts forward without Congress reauthorizing the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which aids workers who lose their jobs due to international trade. Republicans allowed an expansion of TAA to expire back in February (even as they were advocating for their constituents to receive TAA payments).
Congressional leaders yesterday struck a deal with the White House that will reauthorize TAA in return for moving on the pending agreements. But McConnell is so adamantly opposed to helping workers who are harmed by trade that he vowed to vote against a free trade deal that includes a reauthorization of trade assistance:
“I’ve never voted against a trade agreement before — but if the administration were to embed TAA into the Korean trade agreement, I would be compelled to vote against it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters.
McConnell’s distaste for trade assistance is well known. Earlier this month he called on the administration to move on free trade pacts and “leave Trade Adjustment Assistance out of it.” But now he will vote against the very deal he has championed if it includes provisions to help the workers who are inevitably hurt.
And McConnell is not the only Republican who wants trade deals to be approved without also approving measures to help workers who are displaced. For instance, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) called it “regrettable” that trade assistance is a part of the package.
Merits of the trade deals aside (and they have their issues), forging ahead without providing help to the workers who wind up on the short end of the stick is simply unacceptable. But for McConnell, including aid for displaced workers is reason to vote down what is otherwise a top GOP priority.