The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, urged President Barack Obama on Tuesday to submit pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress for ratification.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, the Kentucky lawmaker censures the administration for delaying the trade deals because, he believes, “unions have been extracting concessions in exchange for their support.”
President Obama agrees with Republicans that implementing the treaties, which together are expected to boost exports by as much as $13 billion, would create jobs in the United States and strengthen bilateral ties with American allies in Central America and Asia. He has urged opposition lawmakers in the Senate, which must ratify the accords before they can come into effect, to enact them — except his own Democrats have delayed ratification by conditioning their support on an extension of unemployment benefits for workers whose jobs are displaced by foreign competition or outsourcing.
McConnell’s Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Harry Reid, has said he will not schedule a vote until the Republican majority in the House of Representatives expands what is known as the Trade Adjustment Assistance program. “Unless [it] passes the House, we’re not going to take up any of the trade bills over here,” he said on Wednesday.
Trade unions, which align with the Democrats on trade and labor policy, have made similar demands and convinced Obama to renegotiate the deal with the Koreans three years after it was finalized by his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
If implemented, the treaty would eliminate virtually all remaining tariffs on goods traded between South Korea and the United States.
Conservatives in both chambers are opposed to expanding compensation for workers whose jobs are negatively affected by the trade deals. They argue this is a natural consequence of removing trade barriers and that other jobs will be created in their place.
McConnell writes that Republicans are willing to have a vote on the motion, “as a sign of good faith,” but that they will not be forced to spend more on unemployment benefits when they are interested in reducing spending.