Senate still deadlocked over proceeding on extending trade programs

"We're talking about $1.6 billion, we can't do that," McCain said. "I'm willing to support a billion-dollar program a year when we're slashing vital programs."

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said that while he supports TAA and ATPA, the trade adjustment program needs to retain not only current spending levels but other changes to the program made in 2009 that now cover service workers or workers who lost jobs due to trade with countries with which the United States doesn't have a free-trade agreement, including China and India. He also urged for the continuation of the higher level of the healthcare tax credit. 

"I object to having helped workers of Ecuador and Colombia without helping workers in Ohio and West Virginia," Brown countered. 

Brown’s 18-month extension proposal would cost $1 billion, and is fully paid for with customs users fee. 

With the expiration, House lawmakers said earlier this week that under a separate proposal the program's spending levels would drop from $575 million to $220 million, eliminating many worker-training programs and cutting the healthcare credit from 80 percent to 65 percent, all changes made in in 2009 that provided a boost to the program. 

McCain pushed especially hard for the continuation of the ATPA. 

"I understand there are a lot of things going on in the world, going on domestically, but shouldn't we pay attention to our friends, our little friends that helped us in the war on drugs?" McCain said.

"Please consider at least a short-term extension of ATPA along with the basic TAA," he said. "People have laid down their lives in the war against drugs. It's a sad, sad day for our dear friends in Colombia."

Earlier this month, Brown led a group of 14 senators in a letter to members of House leadership, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), urging them to pass an extension of TAA in the House. 

House leaders scheduled the bill but then pulled it when the Republican Study Committee complained about its costs and questioned its usefulness during a time of higher deficits. 

On Tuesday, House Ways and Means ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) made an additional push for House Republicans to vote on the TAA and the ATPA programs before leaving for the weeklong Presidents Day recess. 

"We have an obligation to help people who have lost a job through no fault of their own, and TAA is meeting that responsibility," Levin said. 

With the continuing resolution dominating the floor schedule, House Republican leaders haven't provided any indication as to whether they'd take up an extension. 

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) recently indicated that Republican leaders could revive TAA, but he's uncertain of when that bill would be ready. 

While Levin and McDermott apply pressure on TAA, Camp has ramped up his calls for the Obama administration to accelerate the three pending free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, with a goal of completing them by July 1. 

"Without this commitment from the administration, other trade measures, such as TAA and ATPA, are now in limbo, and American workers will suffer as a result," Camp said in a statement.

Sen. Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has indicated that he would block TAA until the White House vows to move the free-trade agreement with Colombia.