The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, urged the president on Tuesday to submit pending free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress for ratification. In an opinion article published in The Washington Post, the Kentucky lawmaker lambasted the administration for delaying the trade deals because, he believes, “unions have been extracting concessions in exchange for their support.”
President Barack Obama agrees with Republicans that implementation of the trade agreements, which together are expected to boost exports by up to $13 billion, would sustain jobs in the United States and strengthen bilateral ties with American allies in Central America and northeast 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 Democratic allies have delayed ratification by conditioning their support on an extension of unemployment benefits for workers whose jobs disappeared as a result of foreign competition or outsourcing.
The Democratic leader in the Senate stressed on Wednesday that he will not schedule a vote on the trade agreements 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,” Harry Reid told reporters.
Trade unions, which typically align with the Democratic Party on trade and labor policy, have made similar demands and were able to convince the White House to renegotiate the deal with the Koreans three years after it was finalized by the Bush Administration. Upon implementation, the treaty would eliminate virtually all remaining tariffs on goods traded between the two countries.
Conservatives in both chambers of Congress are opposed to expanding unemployment compensation for workers whose jobs were displaced by freer trade. They argue that this is a natural consequence of removing trade barriers and that other jobs will be created in their place.
McConnell wrote 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 jobless benefits when they want to focus on fiscal consolidation.