Consideration of the three pending trade pacts — with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea — presents a conundrum. The administration is saying that these Free Trade Agreements with bipartisan support will open markets, improve the economy and help create jobs. However, they won’t be submitted to Congress for a vote unless a substantial Trade Adjustment Assistance program is enacted to support workers who ostensibly lost their jobs because of trade.
Come again? The U.S. won’t pass these agreements, which are expected to provide significant and sorely needed economic gains for the U.S. and put a lot of people back to work, unless we help workers. In fact, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus (D-Mont.) at hearings today quantified the economic benefits of the U.S.-Korea FTA: “Once implemented, the FTA will increase U.S. exports to Korea by more than $10 billion annually and support at least 70,000 American jobs.” But instead of pushing hard for that agreement and other two FTAs, the administration is holding these pacts hostage to a $1.82 billion a year program — with estimates for 2010 at $2.5 billion — with dubious lasting benefits for workers.
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, at today’s hearing and at Wednesday’s hearing on the Panama FTA, expressed his puzzlement and dismay at the administration’s contradictory stance on the FTAs. In fact, he grilled the U.S. Trade Representative’s witness at the Panama hearing about coupling TAA with the FTAs. He told her: “You admit that we’ll gain jobs [from the Panama FTA] … yet we’re treating this country like dirt — to pay off the unions.”
Hatch again expressed his frustration in his statement at today’s hearing on the Korea FTA:
As I noted earlier, today is our last hearing on the three pending free trade agreements. Although the Korea FTA is certainly the most economically significant, it is critically important that the President submit all three agreements. Achieving approval of all three agreements remains my number one trade priority. Why that has not happened yet remains a mystery to me.
I do not understand the President’s excuses for further delay. Lack of support is not the issue. Once submitted to Congress, these agreements will gain strong bipartisan support. Economic concerns are not the issue. We all agree that that these agreements will provide a sorely needed economic boost to the economy and that if we do not act, other nations will take these markets from us. Foreign policy is not the issue. We all agree that Colombia, Panama, and South Korea are key regional allies and that approving these agreements will help strengthen our alliances. Yet, the President still will not submit these agreements to Congress.
Sen. Hatch’s position is a logical one and a commonsense one: The agreements have solid support on their merits. The administration doesn’t need to give “another free gift to unions.”