White House Threatens to Hold Up Key Trade Deals to Get Aid for Displaced Workers

By JULIE PACE, Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The White House is threatening to hold up final passage of three coveted free trade agreements unless lawmakers expand retraining assistance for American workers who lose their jobs because of foreign competition.

The move comes as administration officials begin talks on Capitol Hill to finalize the agreements the White House reached to expand trade with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. President Barack Obama has said the deals are an integral part of his economic agenda, and the pacts have broad Republican support.

While administration officials have long said they supported expanding the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program, or TAA, Monday's announcement was the first time aides said they would be willing to delay the deals without it.

"We will not submit the FTAs without an agreement on an enhanced TAA," said Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council. "But we also believe we can work on congressional leadership to get that accomplished."

The assistance program was expanded two years ago as part of Obama's stimulus package to include aid for more displaced workers, but the expansion expired in February. Labor unions and some key Democratic lawmakers have demanded the expansion as a condition for supporting the trade deals.

While Republicans have typically been supportive of the TAA program, several GOP lawmakers have expressed concerns that the level of spending under the 2009 expansion is no longer sustainable given the Capitol Hill negotiations on debt and deficit.

Administration officials said Monday they did not have an estimate for how much it would cost to renew the assistance program. Sperling said the administration is working with Congress on ways to fund the program so it doesn't add to the deficit.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said the administration's decision to link the trade deals with the assistance program was "hugely disappointing."

"With our economy struggling and our nation broke, it's time to stop the excuses and give our exporters fair access to international markets," Hatch said in a statement.

The White House and Republicans had appeared to have a breakthrough on trade earlier this month when the administration started informal talks with congressional staff on the three trade deals. The talks are the first step toward the final ratification process.

The administration wanted lawmakers to pass the South Korea deal, the largest of the three, first while it negotiated outstanding issues with Colombia and Panama. But Republicans demanded the White House send all three agreements together, threatening to block the confirmation of a new commerce secretary and any trade-related nominees if that didn't happen.

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47 Comments

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wmollie7

Retrain them to do what-be a government worker? Retraining has always been a farce.

May 18 2011 at 9:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cutlassv8

How can anyone have faith in a president to
put our economy back on tract, when his
experience in the business world was that of
a cummunity organizer in a Chicago slum.

May 18 2011 at 9:38 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jdrabe

Republicans love to ship middle class jobs overseas. If they have their way, they will destroy every last single decent middle class job in the USA

May 18 2011 at 5:46 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
wbrlsn

no go

May 17 2011 at 10:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wbrlsn

no dil

May 17 2011 at 10:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rick

Ok... let me see here, let's have another deal and not train displaced workers, right? And you bitch and moan about fair trade deals? Exactly what is it some of you folks want? Probably is a positive deal, heck most are; so, let's have a few crumbs for training workers, here. If this is such a great deal. It's all about the "deal" anyway, right?
Don't talk about hostages or a hostage when the country is being held hostage by congress,gez... some of the thinking here is a little confussing.

May 17 2011 at 4:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BUFFALO

I do not understand why the president wants to hold up a positive trade deal for the U.S.??
Colombai has a lot to offer the U.S with little down side S. Korea how ever has little to offer but liability's.
Panamal is pretty much unimportant as far as trade goes but it is in our best intrests to have a stable
panamal. In my opinion the president is holding the trade agreement hostage that is in many ways
a advantage to the president.

May 17 2011 at 3:14 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ajgorm

You got to ask yourself if this is the route we want to go down over the next hundred years depending on global tra

May 17 2011 at 12:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ajgorm

Obamas stimulus plan has always been hitched to NAFTA and its success. Trickle down jobs was suppose to be part of the plan once Nafta takes root but it never will in our life time. Talk about the short end of the stick it is shrinking the middle class here in America out of existance. Grab a number !.

May 17 2011 at 12:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ajgorm

The assistance program was expanded two years ago as part of Obama's stimulus package to include aid for more displaced workers. The White House is threatening to hold up final passage of three coveted free trade agreements unless lawmakers expand retraining assistance for American workers who lose their jobs because of foreign competition. The truth is NAFTA has cost us jobs figure it out.

May 17 2011 at 12:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ajgorm's comment
bggdg

The truth is that reducing trade barriers allows both parties to focus resource allocation on areas where they have greeatest efficiency based on some comparative advantage. Doing so means jobs will be lost in inefficient industries due to the ability to acquire those goods from more efficient foreign producers. Meanwhile, jobs will be added in efficient industries sue to the increased ability to export those goods to less efficient foreign buyers. The question is whether we want to rely on artificual incentives to protect jobs in inefficient industries at the expense of those that could have been created in efficient industries.

May 17 2011 at 12:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply