Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (left) touted the economic benefits of tying a trade adjustment assistance measure to pending free-trade pacts, but ranking member Orrin Hatch said it should be debated on its own.
Updated: 7:18 p.m.
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus said Tuesday that Members and the administration have reached a deal on a trade adjustment assistance measure — a move that is expected to help clear the path for three long-stalled trade pacts, including one with South Korea.
The Montana Democrat also announced that his panel would hold a “mock” markup Thursday on the South Korea, Colombia and Panama free-trade agreements as well as on TAA.
“These free trade agreements, together with Trade Adjustment Assistance, will boost our economy by billions of dollars and create new jobs and opportunities here at home,” Baucus said in a statement released by his office. “The road to this point has not been an easy one, but our economy needs these jobs and these opportunities. ... We think this package can get the support needed to become law. American workers and our economy can’t afford for us to wait any longer to move forward.”
But the situation remains fluid and controversial, as has been the case with trade agreements in recent years.
The TAA measure, which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and other Republicans have said they oppose, provides services and unemployment benefits to workers who lose their jobs because of international trade. Under the deal with the White House, the measure is set to be included in the South Korea trade agreement.
Senate Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) blasted the White House’s effort to link the two measures.
“This highly-partisan decision to include TAA in the South Korean FTA implementing bill risks support for this critical job-creating trade pact in the name of a welfare program of questionable benefit at a time when our nation is broke,” Hatch said in a statement Tuesday. “TAA should move through the Congress on its own merit and should stand up to rigorous Senate debate. President [Barack] Obama should send up our pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and Korea and allow for a clean vote.”
In a conference call with reporters Tuesday evening, the White House acknowledged that although Members had agreed on the substance of the TAA deal, the process for passing the three free-trade agreements had not been nailed down.
The agreement extends the TAA program through 2014 and keeps a portion of the expanded benefits that Congress approved in 2009, an administration official said. The compromise, which the official said is deficit neutral, would include a $575 million pool to fund training for unemployed workers and a 72.5 percent health care tax credit, down from the existing 80 percent credit.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said earlier in the day that the president has fought for an ambitious trade agenda to help double U.S. exports in five years.
“As part of that agenda, he has fought for Trade Adjustment Assistance for those American workers who lose their jobs due to increased imports or outsourcing,” Carney said in a statement. “As a result of extensive negotiations, we now have an agreement on the underlying terms for a meaningful renewal of a strengthened TAA. ... Now it is time to move forward with TAA and with the Korea, Colombia, and Panama trade agreements, which will support tens of thousands of jobs.”
Opponents of the trade deals cast doubt on whether there really is an agreement to move to a vote on the pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
“I think what’s happening right now is an attempt to create momentum when there isn’t really momentum,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “I think they’re also testing to see how many freshman tea party Republicans join Sen. McConnell on the warpath against the whole package if TAA is put onto Korea. If he takes a bunch of freshman Republicans with him, they have a problem.”