By Vicki Needham
Two Senate Democrats introduced stand-alone legislation on Tuesday that would extend for five years a program that provides retraining for workers who've lost their jobs because of trade.
Sens. Bob Casey (Pa.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), vocal critics of the three trade deals with Korea, Colombia and Panama, argue that any extension of expired 2009 Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program shouldn't be included in the Korean deal as announced by the White House and congressional negotiators.
The Obama administration and Senate leaders, including Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announced an agreement on Tuesday that should allow for Congress to vote on the three trade deals in the near future and included a combined deal to add a two-year extension of most 2009 TAA provisions to the Korean pact.
"In light of recent news that the administration and Senate leaders have struck a deal to offer an insufficient version of worker assistance legislation and link it to a costly agreement with South Korea, it is imperative that we offer another path." Casey said in a statement.
Brown, who has said he won't support the Korean deal and won't likely back the other two, reiterated his stance on Tuesday that TAA should "move through Congress on its own merit, along with the several bipartisan trade enforcement initiatives introduced in the Senate."
"If there was ever any doubt that free trade agreements cost American jobs, the Korea/TAA deal provides clarity," Brown said.
Senate Finance has scheduled a mock markup for Thursday, the next step in the process.
Senate Republicans quickly questioned whether the TAA program could be incorporated into the Korean deal has asked the Senate Parliamentarian to look into whether the accord would get privileged floor status.
Inclusion of TAA "risks losing Republican support for something we have long been calling for," Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. "I would strongly urge the administration to re-think this action, and urge them to send up all three pending trade agreements without delay and without extraneous poison pills included."
McConnell said TAA should be considered separately along with an extension of Trade Promotion Authority.
"If the administration isn't ready to embrace TPA, even limited to their negotiations related to the Trans Pacific Partnership, TAA should be considered separate from any trade agreement under regular order in the Senate and senators should be given the chance to amend this controversial spending program."