By Vicki Needham - 05/23/11 07:51 PM EDT
A week ago, the Obama administration said it wouldn't submit the three pending trade deals for congressional approval until lawmakers agree to renew TAA, which expired earlier this year.
Republicans have been reluctant to renew the program, especially at the 2009 economic stimulus levels.
The administration has been calling for agreement on a broader trade agenda once the three trade deals are lined up for approval, which has created some tension between Democrats and Republicans and could further stall the accords.
"While we the undersigned may have differing views on elements of the trade agenda — with some of us looking forward to supporting the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama, and others skeptical of the impact of the agreements — we are unified in our belief that the first order of business, before we should consider any FTA, is securing a long-term TAA extension," the letter said.
Changes in 2009 expanded the eligibility to all workers whose jobs have been moved offshore, regardless of whether the United States has a trade agreement with the particular country and it expanded the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC), which helps trade-affected workers afford private health insurance.
“Congress should not be considering new trade agreements before renewing protections for people whose jobs are sent overseas," Stabenow said.
“Along with extending retraining to help workers transition to the industries of the future, it is time to strengthen trade enforcement and finally get tough on China and other countries violating fair trade rules. U.S. trade policy should put American families and businesses first.”
The senators argue that since the new TAA began in May 2009, the program has assisted 185,000 workers with usage in some states increasing by more than 40 percent. The 2009 reforms aimed to improve accountability by requiring data on performance and worker outcomes, enabling Congress to identify where improvements were needed.
“We have an obligation to take care of American workers and American industry first," Brown said. "TAA is one critical piece to rebalancing our trade policy, along with strengthened trade enforcement. Too often, we pass free trade agreements and then turn our backs on the American workers who have watched their jobs go to Mexico or China.”
The letter was also signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (Ore.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Patty Murray (Wash.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Ben Cardin (Md.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Carl Levin (Mich.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tom Udall (N.M.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Al Franken (Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Chris Coons (Del.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Mark Udall (Colo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom Carper (Del.), Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), and Patrick Leahy (Vt.).