WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top Republican senator said he feared the Obama administration was squandering its chance to win approval of trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama by tying them to renewal of retraining programs for displaced U.S. workers.
“My problem is we can’t get TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance) through this Congress,” Senator Orrin Hatch, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said at a hearing on the South Korean pact.
“If we can’t get TAA through because it’s too expensive under current circumstances, why hold up three agreements that are going to create all kinds of jobs,” Hatch said.
Congress expanded the long-time TAA program in 2009 to cover service industry workers, as well as workers displaced by competition from China and India in addition to countries that have a free trade pact with the United States.
The expanded benefits expired in February, and efforts to renew the program failed in the House of Representatives when many freshman Republicans objected to the cost.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis reaffirmed to the Finance Committee that the White House would not send the three trade pacts to Congress for votes until there is a deal to renew TAA.
Despite the opposition of many House Republicans, Marantis told reporters after the hearing he was confident the administration could work out a deal with Congress to win approval of both TAA and the three trade pacts.
Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Vicki Allen