The Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has urged President Barack Obama to submit pending trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress for ratification.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, the Kentucky lawmaker accuses the administration of delaying the trade agreements because “unions have been extracting concessions in exchange for their support.”
Obama agrees with Republicans that implementing the treaties, which together are expected to boost exports by $13 billion per year, would create jobs in the United States.
But Obama’s 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.
Democratic-allied trade unions 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. 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.