Senate Majority Leader Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader McConnell, R-Ky., announced that when Congress returns from the August recess, they have agreed to consider free trade agreements (FTA) with Korea, Colombia and Panama and the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program.
The expanded TAA is designed to provide assistance to employees adversely affected by international trade agreements, including service workers and workers who lose their jobs due to competition from countries that do not have a free trade agreement with the United States.
As part of the informal “mock markup” under Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), the Senate Finance Committee reported the Korea FTA and attached an extension of TAA. The House Ways and Means Committee cleared the FTA without TAA. Attaching the TAA provisions in the Korea implementing bill—as the White House and Senate Democrats had proposed—protected them from amendments under TPA procedures, which calls for an up-or-down vote in Congress under a timetable once the implementing legislation is submitted by the Administration.
Sen. McConnell, House Speaker Boehner, R-Ohio, and other Republicans have insisted on separate consideration of a TAA bill not protected from amendments. Speaker Boehner said in a statement that Senate leaders have cleared an important hurdle. “I look forward to the House passing the FTAs, in tandem with separate consideration of TAA legislation, as soon as possible,” he said.
Under a complex legislative procedure, the House would have four separate votes, one of which would be on legislation, including TAA, Generalized System of Preferences(GSP) and perhaps extension of the Andean Trade Preference Act (APTA). The four bills would go to the Senate for final approval. However, the lack of specific language in the leaders' statements on how the amendment process will be handled may indicate that a number of important procedural details have not been worked out yet.
The ruling Grand National Party in Korea has scheduled an Aug. 8 special parliamentary session to vote on and pass the US-Korea FTA. The ruling party had hoped that the agreement would have been ratified by the US Congress before the August recess and is seeking clear signals that the United States will move on the deal. The agreement between Sens. Reid and McConnell may, in part, be designed to send this signal.
The agreement on TAA allows workers access to income support during job training. Income support will continue for the period necessary to complete a degree or equivalent program, with a maximum of 130 weeks. There also were provisions under the deal that the GSP and ATPA provisions would be extended retroactively through July 31, 2013. GSP expired at the end of 2010 and ATPA unilateral trade preferences for Colombia and Ecuador expired on Feb. 12, 2011.