Speaking of Congress, they may be getting themselves in a position to actually pass those three long-stalled trade agreements.
Yesterday the Senate passed a bill “to extend the Generalized System of Preferences, and for other purposes.” This is actually a bill that came over from the House, and the Senate version includes Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program that Ted Kennedy actually inaugurated, which provides funding support for workers displaced because of trade.
The Senate vote Thursday extends some benefits that were added to the TAA program as part of the stimulus act but which expired last February. The 2009 additions included more money for retraining and increased unemployment support and health insurance subsidies. They also extended eligibility to public sector and service industry workers and farmers, and to workers affected by trade with countries that don’t have free trade agreements with the United States, such as China and India.
The White House linked passage of TAA to its submission of the free trade agreements. And for a long time, Republicans said they would not support such a deal. But Speaker Boehner announced he would act on this new version of the legislation, which sets up the so called “free” trade bills for passage.
“The bill that passed the Senate today is the result of months of hard work by Chairman Camp and Chairman Baucus. We await the President’s submission of the three trade agreements sitting on his desk so the House can consider them in tandem with the Senate-passed GSP/TAA legislation. If the President submits these agreements promptly, I’m confident that all four bills can be signed into law by mid-October.”
That looks to be the road we’re going down. Labor supports TAA but opposes the free trade deals. However, plenty of Senate Democrats are ready to vote for the trade deals, which are with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. The impasse over TAA stalled this out for a while, but with Republicans giving in on that, the legislative process is likely to go as smoothly as Boehner assumes.
The only thing that can hold this up is if the House does a bait-and-switch, passing the trade deals and then blocking the GSP/TAA legislation. We know that Boehner doesn’t have the best control of his caucus, and that legislation might get tarred with some brush of “socialism” for workers (heaven forbid). Then you’d have to rely on the White House vetoing trade deals they negotiated in order to force passage of TAA. That’s been their position all along.
My suspicion is that everyone will play nice and these trade deals will pass. And far from Administration rhetoric, that will mean some loss of jobs to these other countries, that have either a record of murdering trade unionists (Colombia), a history of being used as a tax shelter (Panama) or a relationship with the oppressive North Korean government, where some of these trade dollars would flow (South Korea).