Earlier today, the Washington Post reported that Republicans would tie a trade adjustment assistance bill valued by Democrats to the finalization of free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.
The move to link the two issues puts at risk a federal initiative that helps retrain and find work for several hundred thousand U.S. workers who have been displaced by global trade.
The long-standing Trade Adjustment Assistance program was broadened in 2009 in response to the recession, but the expanded benefits are due to expire Saturday unless Congress acts.
The measure was on the House calendar this week, but Republicans pulled it back on Tuesday so they could press the Obama administration to move more quickly on the pending free-trade pacts.
Sure enough, when Democrats tried to pass this bill today in the Senate, Republicans blocked it. They tried to call up the bill by unanimous consent and Republicans objected. In case you didn’t notice, then, Republicans just broke the gentlemen’s agreement on getting bills to the floor to try and force the President to sign off on some corporate-written trade bills with countries that kill their workers for trying to unionize. Here’s Harry Reid’s statement:
“Democrats want to make government more efficient by cutting waste and excess, but Republicans are trying to cut programs that help our economy grow. Today, they blocked a bill that would help keep our workforce competitive by re-training workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas, even as they protect tax breaks for companies that ship those jobs overseas. Just yesterday, the President’s Trade Representative announced the most ambitious trade agenda for 2011 that we have seen in years. Now is not the time to roll back programs to help U.S. workers hurt by trade and outsourcing.”
Nothing in there about how the gentlemen’s agreement is dead and buried.
Trade adjustment assistance is valued by the labor community because frequently their people access it after manufacturing cuts. Expanded benefits added in response to the recession will expire on Saturday, and with the Senate out of session until Monday, that’s going to happen.
The question is whether the President and his team will acquiesce to this demand to tie the futures of American workers to more corporate-written trade deals. After a meeting with Republicans yesterday, the Administration announced “common ground” on two major areas – education reform, and trade agreements. So don’t be surprised if you hear about a “breakthrough” on Panama and Colombia sometime soon.