Congress Sets Compromise in Motion on Trade Pacts, Workers Aid

Draft bills lay foundation for legislation to move forward.

WASHINGTON — A compromise appears to be in the works in the House and Senate that would aid U.S. workers who lose their jobs because of foreign trade and free up three languishing free trade agreements with Colombia, South Korea and Panama to advance in Congress.

This story first appeared in the July 8, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Ways & Means Committees said during separate “mock” markups of the three pending trade deals that they were willing to find a path forward on a controversial Trade Adjustment Assistance program that helps workers who lose their jobs because of import competition through extended government benefits and job training.

The Senate Finance Committee informally approved all three trade deals and included the TAA program in the trade agreement with South Korea that were then sent to the White House to use as a foundation for President’s official legislation. But the House Ways & Means Committee approved the three trade deals through the mock markup without including TAA.

The committees’ draft bills are nonbinding recommendations that the White House can consider before it formally submits final legislation to Congress for an up or down vote under “fast track” authority. Congress has 90 days to consider the final trade bills once the administration officially submits them.

“I know that there are differences of opinion on the process for extending TAA,” Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) said. “I have included it in the Korea FTA bill for this mock markup. But that does not foreclose discussion of other options for extending TAA. I remain open to those options, as long as they provide certainty that the bipartisan TAA deal will be enacted in tandem with the FTAs.”

Ways & Means chairman Dave Camp (R., Mich.) refused to add it to the draft legislation in the House and said Republican leaders and the White House will have to make the final decision on how TAA moves. But Camp pledged to put to a vote a stand-alone TAA bill on the same day the committee officially considers the three trade agreements once the Obama administration submits them to Congress.