Back in February, Republicans in Congress allowed an expansion of federal trade assistance — meant to aid workers who lose their jobs due to international trade — expire, bumping thousands of workers off of the program. Workers who qualified under that 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.
At the time, some Republicans, such as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), were ready and willing to extend the trade assistance, but Tea Partiers in the House balked. Senate Republicans then threw a fit and blocked an extension, saying that they refused to budge on trade assistance unless it was coupled with consideration of pending free trade pacts with Columbia, Korea, and Panama.
The Obama administration yesterday countered and said that it won’t move on the free trade pacts until trade assistance is reauthorized. “The administration will not submit implementing legislation on the three pending FTAs until we have an agreement with Congress on the renewal of a robust expanded TAA program,” said National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling. Republicans have responded to the administration’s stance with predictable disapproval:
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): “Our economy needs jobs and growth, not an ever-expanding list of reasons to delay the creation those jobs. It is my hope that the President will reconsider this decision and will not allow anything to get in the way of Congressional consideration of these trade agreements and the jobs they’ll create.”
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.”
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): “I don’t think the current funding level is sustainable,” said Senator Charles Grassley…“I see the possibility of more goal-post moving.”
So Republicans are allowed to hold benefits hostage for more trade deals, but the administration attempting to ensure that workers already affected by trade receive some help “makes no sense”? As CAP’s Sabina Dewan wrote, “threatening to let Trade Adjustment Assistance expire unless the administration ‘moves’ other trade agreements amounts to little more than a conservative anti-jobs and anti-worker agenda.”
Indeed, merits of the trade agreements aside, trade assistance should be reauthorized independently, as the current version of the program, which dates to 2002, “covers fewer workers and offers lower benefits and fewer opportunities” than the version of the program that expired. As AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “for years the TAA program has been a lifeline for working people trying to get the skills necessary to change careers after their lives have been turned upside down.”