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TAA Legislation Perched to Take Center Stage

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The TAA legislation is supported by a number of Republicans, such as Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, whose home state of Michigan has been hit hard as auto manufacturers head to other countries to set up shop in cheaper climes.

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Most Democrats on both sides of the Capitol are eager to pass TAA, and attaching it to the GSP bill could give both parties a legislative win in the trade arena, although Democrats have grumbled that Republicans have tied workers' benefits to the trade agreements. The Congressional aide noted: "There's a lot of support for TAA, and there's some support for the [trade agreements] within Democratic ranks," particularly for South Korea and Panama.

"I think this is viewed as something that needs to get done and could have been done a lot sooner," the aide continued. "We're looking forward to resolving it all."

A number of Republicans also support the TAA legislation, most notably Rust Belt politicians such as Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, whose home state of Michigan has been hit hard during the past several decades as auto manufacturers have headed to other countries to set up shop in cheaper climes.

But more broadly, the GOP has long been supportive of trade deals. For instance, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called for passage of the deals during a presidential campaign speech Tuesday in Nevada.

But strong opposition to the TAA provisions which the White House has made a prerequisite for sending the trade deals to Congress has led to a yearlong standoff with the Obama administration.

Although it now appears that logjam has been cleared, at least one wild card remains Senate Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

While Sessions generally supports reauthorizing GSP, a home-state concern of his stands in the way, leading him late last year to block a GSP bill in the Senate, which resulted in the law lapsing. Sessions has demanded that a provision be added to the bill in order to fix a loophole in the law that has allowed Bangladeshi sleeping bag manufacturers to compete with a key employer in Alabama.

In the past, Sessions has remained adamant that the GSP bill include his provision. But the bill on the House floor, sponsored by Camp, is a straight reauthorization of current law, with no add-ons.

Part of the problem for Sessions and the sleeping bag manufacturer is that even though it applies to a "loophole," a change to existing trade law is technically defined as an earmark under the House's prohibition. As a result, even if Camp and Republican leaders wanted to add the provision, it would likely not be possible.

It is unclear whether Sessions will decide to stick by his objections and filibuster the GSP bill. A spokesperson for Sessions would say only that the lawmaker "look[s] forward to reviewing the legislation once it arrives" from the House.

Correction: Sept. 7, 2011

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Generalized System of Preferences. It also should have stated that the foreign sleeping bags in question are manufactured in Bangladesh. And it mistakenly stated that imports from Myanmar receive duty-free treatment under the GSP program.

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