- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2011

Republican senators on Thursday boycotted a congressional meeting to discuss three trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia that have taken years to negotiate in a move that could further delay their approval.

“We tried everything in our power to work with the majority [Democrats] to find a resolution - to give senators enough time to consider these three agreements and the 97 amendments that had been filed,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the finance committee. “We want these agreements to pass. We want the committee to send them to the full Senate for consideration. Unfortunately, the majority refused toaccommodate our concerns. They refused to give the American people time to understand these agreements.”

Republicans had requested a meeting earlier in the day Thursday to have more time to discuss the issue in full, but when Democrats scheduled it for late Thursday, they decided to be no-shows.

“I’m certainly disappointed that my colleagues have chosen not to join us to consider this legislation,” said finance chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, adding that he was forced to cancel the meeting. “Today’s actions move us farther away from finalizing three trade agreements and a bipartisan Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) package. These bills are so critical to our effort to open new markets, help displaced workers and improve our economy.”

“In these tough economic times, now is simply not the time to walk away,” he added.

The three trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama originally were negotiated years ago by the Bush administration. At that time, however, Democrats shot them down.

Recently, the Obama administration renegotiated the agreements and Democrats are ready to vote in favor of the deals with South Korea and Panama, although some in the party want Colombia to improve its labor environment for unions before passage.

Republicans, however, have said they won’t vote on the deals until all three are ready. This leaves the U.S. sitting on the sidelines as South Korea starts its trade agreement with the European Union on Friday and Colombia begins its deal with Canada in August.

Also angering the GOP this week was the attaching of the TAA to the South Korea deal by the White House. It’s a reatraining program for workers whose jobs are outsourced to other countries.

Republicans said the last-minute trickery could be a deal-breaker. They wrote a letter to the president saying they believe the program should go through Congress on its own merits and should not be attached to this trade deal.

The problem, they argue, is that TAA could allow workers who lost their jobs to another country to “double dip” with traditional unemployment benefits, while workers who lose their job to another state don’t have both options. To make matters worse, this expanded version of TAA would apply to any worker who lost their job to any country, and not just workers who lost their jobs to South Korea, the country the trade agreement is with.
“We are united in our opposition to inclusion of expanded Trade Adjustment Assistance,” they wrote.