Senators to try again on trade deals

The Senate Finance Committee will try Thursday for the second time in less than a week to hold a mock markup of three pending trade deals. 

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announced the markup after the panel's Republicans boycotted a meeting last Thursday to work on draft implementing bills for the South Korea, Colombia and Panama trade agreements. The Korea deal includes an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for workers, which is a sticking point for Republicans. 

"It is past time to get this package moving," Baucus said in a statement. "Right now, our competitors are gaining ground in these vital markets, and jobless Americans in need of opportunities are left waiting while these trade agreements languish."  

Senate Republicans who staged the protest last week argued that Democrats were trying to "ram through" the long-delayed deals. They said there wasn't enough time to take up nearly 100 amendments at the scheduled time and said including TAA in the Korean deal would complicate fast-track authority. 

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member of the Finance Committee, indicated Republicans will attend the markup this time around.

"While Republicans continue to believe that adding TAA to the trade agreements is an abuse of long-standing trade rules, tomorrow, members will have the time to fully examine and consider our trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, and if desired, offer amendments,” Hatch said Wednesday in a statement.

The markup is a nonbinding meeting that gives lawmakers a chance to discuss the trade agreements and offer amendments. The president is free to accept or reject any amendments before sending the final agreements to Congress. Once on Capitol Hill, those deals will likely move under fast-track authority and can't be amended. 

The House Ways and Means Committee also will take up the trade deals on Thursday morning but without funding for the TAA program backed by the White House that retrains workers displaced by foreign trade. 

Senate and House Republican lawmakers are insisting on taking up TAA separately from the three long-delayed trade deals following an agreement last week between the White House, Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Baucus on a streamlined program that reduces funding from an estimated $700 million a year to $900 million over three years without any new deficit spending, according to Camp. 

House Democrats, including Ways and Means ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) and Subcommittee on Trade ranking member Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), intend to propose several amendments at Thursday's scheduled markup. 

The amendments from Democrats are likely to include a provision to add TAA back into the Korean deal; language on China currency that would direct the Commerce Department to look at how specific products are affected by undervalued currency; new shipper bonding that eliminates the option for using bonds in anti-dumping and countervailing duties cases to minimize non-payments; and a miscellaneous tariff bill that includes a list of products needed by U.S. manufacturers that has been stalled for about two years, a Democratic aide told The Hill. 

Democrats most likely also will try to add language to the Colombia deal that would provide make a labor rights action plan enforceable. Levin said last week that he would oppose the Colombia deal until such language was added.

After the agreement was announced between the White House and lawmakers, Camp also touted a handful of concessions, including reforms to unemployment insurance and a reduction in the number of weeks of income support from 156 in the 2009 law down to 117 weeks, as well as a decrease in the health coverage tax credit (HCTC) to 72.5 percent from the 2009 law’s 80 percent, eliminating it after 2013.

A renewal of TAA had support from the business community, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, even before the changes were made to streamline the program.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told reporters on Wednesday in a conference call that TAA should be done first, especially in an economy still struggling to create jobs. 

Brown said not renewing TAA would be "a travesty" and further hurt the economic recovery. 

Brown and Trumka oppose the three trade deals and are urging Congress to renew the 2009 levels of TAA.

White House officials said last week that the bipartisan agreement was "substance only" on TAA and didn't go so far as to include how Congress should proceed on moving forward with the trade accords. 

Senior administration officials said recently that without TAA, President Obama might not send up the implementing language.