04 Apr Trade Adjustment Assistance Renewal Now a Priority
As Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus prepares a push to renew fast-track trade negotiating authority, he could return to the previously successful strategy of simultaneously seeking to reauthorize a worker assistance program as a sweetener for trade skeptics in his own party.
But the Montana Democrat might find a cooler response this time from both the left and right — with organized labor not appeased and Republicans reluctant to support the program’s costs.
At a Senate Finance Committee hearing last month, Baucus explicitly linked trade promotion authority, which provides for expedited consideration of trade deals, with trade adjustment assistance, which aids workers displaced by global trade.
“TPA and TAA are two sides of the same coin — making trade work,” Baucus said. “We need to renew and extend both of them this year.”
President Barack Obama is pursuing a newly ambitious trade agenda, having just launched negotiations with the European Union and with hopes of concluding a wide-ranging agreement with almost a dozen Pacific Rim countries this year.
If U.S. negotiators are able to finalize those agreements, the administration will then have to get them through a divided Congress. Having fast-track trade authority, which lapsed in 2007, is a necessity because it eliminates many procedural roadblocks, especially in the Senate.
Under fast-track rules, a trade deal must receive an up-or-down vote in both chambers, without amendment, within 90 days of being submitted by the White House. Congress has never rejected a trade agreement submitted under those procedures.
Obama has yet to aggressively seek renewal of trade promotion authority, in part because his allies in labor and on Capitol Hill are wary of easing the path for expanded global trade.
But with several deals on the horizon, the administration is now signaling interest in passing a bill, to the delight of business groups, which are eager to open markets abroad.
The administration called for renewing fast-track in its 2013 trade policy agenda unveiled last month, and acting U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis told senators at the Finance hearing that the administration is “ready to begin having that conversation with you now.”
Meanwhile, the trade adjustment assistance program, which provides benefits and services to help unemployed workers prepare for and obtain new jobs, is set to expire Dec. 31.
The program is a top priority for Democrats, who insisted on a reauthorization in return for passage of long-stalled trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama in 2011.
Baucus’ plan to link two initiatives would be “a clever move tactically,” said one top business advocate.
The two have been linked before. Extending trade adjustment assistance played a crucial role in President George W. Bush’s campaign to enact the 2002 law (PL 107-210) renewing trade promotion authority. President Bill Clinton also successfully demanded an expansion of worker assistance programs as part of passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (PL 103-182).
Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who has often opposed trade deals, signaled he might be open to such a trade at the Finance hearing.
“The administration says … shift the power of trade to us … give us all this authority to negotiate,” he said. “What we want in return is maybe trade adjustment assistance.”
Organized labor, however, isn’t ready to make such a swap.
“We would prefer that they are not linked that closely,” said Celeste Drake, who works on trade policy for the AFL-CIO.
“TAA is an ongoing program that workers are going to need in response to all of our current trade policy,” she said. “It doesn’t sort of make up for” future agreements that might cost U.S. jobs.
Drake said the AFL-CIO is warily eyeing talk of renewing fast-track authority and emphasized that adding trade adjustment assistance would not secure labor’s support for fast-track.
The AFL-CIO Executive Council issued a statement in February expressing “deep concern” with the state of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. If labor does end up opposing the trade deal — assuming the countries can come to an agreement — it would almost certainly oppose fast-track as well.
It’s also unclear if Baucus would find partners across the aisle for his legislative strategy. Congressional Republicans have long criticized Obama for not requesting fast-track authority, but they may not support tying it to a reauthorization of trade adjustment assistance this time.
“We already acted on TAA in 2009 in the stimulus and again in 2011. We need to move on TPA,” Julia Lawless, a spokeswoman for Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Finance panel, said in response to a question about linking the two.
A spokesman for Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., said, “The chairman is focused on developing bipartisan TPA.”
Even if GOP leaders can be brought aboard, many rank-and-file Republicans are sure to balk at reauthorizing trade adjustment assistance.
The program has existed for decades and historically won bipartisan backing. But it became a GOP target after it was expanded in the 2009 stimulus law (PL 111-5) to cover service-sector workers and to increase a health care tax credit for unemployed workers. Conservative critics argue the program is ineffective and too expensive.
In 2011, as part of a White House-Congress compromise to pass the three trade agreements and reauthorize trade adjustment assistance, the program’s benefits were slightly pared down. That did little to mollify critics; a majority of Senate and House Republicans still voted against the bill (PL 112-40).