House Republicans are moving forward this week with plans to consider three key trade deals without including an assistance program for workers who have lost their jobs due to outsourcing, making good on their pledge to block the White House on the initiative.
The move could delay or imperil the passage of the South Korea, Colombia and Panama trade pacts, which the White House and leaders of both parties have cited as top priorities in their push to boost U.S. exports and job creation.
According to an announcement Tuesday by the House Ways and Means Committee, only the three trade deals – and not the Trade Adjustment Assistance program – will be on the agenda when the panel meets Thursday morning.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) had announced late last week that the three trade deals would be submitted by the White House to Congress with the TAA program attached to the Korea pact.
Republicans have supported TAA in the past, but at a time of record debt and heightened attention to federal spending, GOP opposition to the $1 billion program has intensified. Last Thursday, all 11 Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee boycotted a planned meeting on the trade deals, citing timing issues as well as the White House’s insistence on the inclusion of TAA.
The long-stalled trade pacts were negotiated under the Bush administration but have encountered numerous obstacles over the past several years, including opposition from Democratic and labor groups over continued anti-union violence in Colombia. The White House worked to allay those concerns, and the TAA disagreement now remains the main obstacle to the deals’ passage.
In a statement Tuesday, Baucus again made the case that Congress must act on the trade deals and TAA together.
“The bipartisan agreement we reached with our colleagues will grow our economy and create jobs by opening new markets to American ranchers, farmers and small businesses, and ensure U.S. workers have the help and opportunities they need to adapt and thrive in the global economy,” Baucus said. “We need to come together to move these three trade agreements and Trade Adjustment Assistance forward as soon as possible because American workers and small businesses simply cannot afford to wait any longer.”
Thursday’s meeting will be the House’s first on the trade deals; another meeting is expected next week. It's unclear when the Senate Finance Committee will take up the deals, although Baucus has said that he wants to move forward on them as quickly as possible.
Congress technically does not have the ability to alter the trade deals once they are submitted by the administration for approval. But the move by House Republicans is the latest sign that the lower chamber may reject any package that includes TAA and insist on separating the legislation from the trade deals.