After months of working on anything but jobs legislation, GOP lawmakers got an opportunity this week to actually address the crisis. Tomorrow, the Trade Assistance Adjustment (TAA) Program and the Health Care Tax Credit (HCTC) will expire. TAA helps retrain and re-employ workers who have lost their jobs due to foreign trade. HCTC provides compensation to help unemployed workers afford private health insurance. While 72 percent of Americans oppose cutting such critical unemployment assistance, the GOP is seemingly insistent that it expire.
On Tuesday, the House GOP’s plan to extend TAA was pulled from the House floor due to conservative backlash against the government “getting too involved in the economy.” That left the typically obstinate Senate as the last hope to extend the much-needed aid. Together on the Senate floor yesterday, Sens. Robert Casey (D-PA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) offered three different proposals to extend both benefits for 18 months, 4.5 months, and just the HCTC for 18 months by unanimous consent. However, each time, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) was there to block it.
Increasingly incensed over each of Barrasso’s obstructions, Brown expressed anger uncommon on the Senate floor at Barrasso’s final objection to the HCTC extension. Offended by the apparent GOP hypocrisy in enjoying taxpayer-funded benefits while refusing to aid those “who don’t dress like this everyday” and “don’t make $170,000 a year,” he blasted Senators for “turning our backs” on the American worker:
BROWN:…For Senators who want to repeal health care, for Senators who want to strip any assistance…it’s basically turning our backs and saying to these workers: “Sorry about NAFTA, sorry about [Permanent normal trade relations], sorry about these trade agreements I know you lost your jobs because of those, sorry about losing your health insurance, sorry about not having any job training money, and oh by the way, if your house is foreclosed on, that’s just too damn bad too.
Madam president, I just don’t get this. I don’t understand why people in this body can’t at least help those citizens who don’t dress like this everyday, who don’t make $170,000 a year, who don’t have really good health insurance provided by taxpayers. Why, madam president, are we turning our backs on them?
Brown’s anger is certainly justified. His state alone has “208 groups with 26,427 workers certified for TAA.” About 280,000 workers across the country stand to lose these benefits. Brown’s anger is only likely to grow as it appears that the GOP is holding these benefits hostage in “an effort to pressure the administration” on free trade agreements that helped generate this unemployment issue in the first place. Indeed, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said “he will block TAA until the White House vows to move the free trade agreement with Colombia.”
As Center For American Progress’s Sabina Dewan puts it, “the conservative schizophrenia on trade — pulling funding for the National Export Initiative designed to support American jobs, while 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.”
Yesterday, Brown’s GOP counterpart Sen. Rob Portman (OH) also “voiced his disappointment” at the House GOP’s obstruction of the TAA “safety net,” promising affected Ohio workers he would “remain committed to [them] and [is] doing all that I can in order to ensure that they receive the benefits they need during tough economic times.” But when his Senate colleagues blocked the extension, Portman was demonstrably silent. His office did not respond to ThinkProgress’s request for comment.