Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus said today negotiators are "quite close" to reaching agreement on a Trade Adjustment Assistance package for displaced workers, although he declined to give a time line for action. "There's only so many legislative weeks left," he said. "I'd like to get it done by the end of this month, but I can't guarantee anything." Baucus and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, with whom he co-sponsored a TAA expansion bill, announced today a new business coalition to help spur movement on the measure. Baucus and Snowe would double job-training funds, expand coverage to service-sector workers, and increase tax credits for health insurance. They also want to expand coverage to workers whose job loss was not a direct result of trade with countries that the United States has a trade agreement with, as the current TAA program is structured. "The current TAA program ironically and outrageously does not help workers whose jobs have been outsourced to the world's biggest and cheapest producers, such as China and India," Snowe said in a statement.
Baucus acknowledged that there remains some resistance by Republicans to the scope of their bill. "Sixty [votes is] is the magic number in the Senate. I'd rather get something passed than not," Baucus said, noting that talks are continuing with Senate Finance ranking member Charles Grassley and the White House. Business groups are lobbying hard in support of three pending free trade agreements, but Baucus reiterated today that TAA must come first. "There's no horse-trading there. TAA is necessary, it's the right policy for our country, right off the top," he said. But he added that the timing "does have some impact on the trade agreements."
Leaders of the new Trade and American Competitiveness Coalition announced today said they would aid the push for provisions backed by Baucus and Snowe. The new coalition includes groups such as the Business Roundtable, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Emergency Committee for American Trade, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Companies involved include Boeing, Citi, Caterpillar, Whirlpool, and General Electric. Sarah Bovim, director of government relations for Whirlpool, said the economic benefits of trade cannot be disputed, but added that it can have an adverse impact on communities. "We acknowledge that at the micro, local community level, trade agreements can have some short-term dislocation," Bovim said. Baucus said the new coalition could be a forceful tool in getting TAA renewal accomplished. "This is a big day," he said. "Things are going to happen here." As far as the pending trade agreements go, Baucus said, the U.S.-Korea deal is on hold for now while the beef issue is sorted out. "The ball's in Korea's court," he said. "We had an agreement."
This article appears in the June 14, 2008 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.