The Washington Times - January 30, 2008, 04:07PM

\ Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, told a lunchtime audience at the Peterson Institute for International Economics that Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) must be “our nation’s trade policy priority.”\

\ “Until we accomplish it, other issues on today’s trade agenda must take the back seat,” he said. \

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\ “Without TAA it’s impossible to get these free trade agreements passed,” Mr. Baucus said. “Frankly, I’m not going to bring them up until I see very significant progress on trade adjustment assistance.”\

\ President Bush, while expressing gratitude to Congress for passing an FTA with Peru in the fall, has made forceful calls for the Democratic-controlled body to approve pending FTA’s with Columbia, Panama and South Korea.\

\ In his final State of the Union address Monday night, Mr. Bush said that if Congress fails to approve an FTA with Columbia, they will “embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere,” referring to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.\

\ “We must come together, pass this agreement, and show our neighbors in the region that democracy leads to a better life,” Mr. Bush said.\

\ But Mr. Baucus today was unmoved. \

\ “Trade policy is not just about economics,” he said. “It is as much about the workers that drive our economy.”\

\ Mr. Bush has been the first Republican president to support TAA reform, drawing praise from Democrats. But it is not likely he will support all the reforms listed by Mr. Baucus.\

\ Mr. Baucus listed four key reforms that should take place.\

\ The Democratic senator wants to double the amount of federal funding for training displaced workers for new jobs from $220 million per year to $440 million a year. He also wants TAA to cover service workers and workers whose companies have moved their operations to countries that are not free trade partners.\

\ And Mr. Baucus wants to expand the TAA health care tax credit from 65 percent to 85 percent of a healthcare premium.\

\ Mr. Baucus said he is “open” to the idea of passing TAA reform in conjunction with approval of FTA’s, but also said he wants more than “vague false promises.”\

\ “I’m also not a sucker,” he said.\

\ — Jon Ward, White House correspondent, The Washington Times