The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that is meant to help American workers that were laid off when their company moved overseas. The bill renews funding for a program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, and passed the body by a 70-27 vote.
The bill was brought forward as part of a deal to take up three free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea that have spent years in limbo. It now heads to the House.
TAA offers benefits and job training programs to workers hurt by free trade agreements. However, some Republicans, including Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) oppose the effort to expand the program, saying the workers enrolled in it are already covered by unemployment benefits and state job training programs.
“There are dozens of state and federal training programs that duplicate each other,” DeMint said on the Senate floor, “For us to lay another layer of duplication on top of that under the guise of showing compassion; I think we also have to make sure that we’re being responsible.”
DeMint called TAA wasteful and unnecessary, pointing to a Government Accountability Office report that concluded four out of every five workers enrolled in it earned less at their new job than at their old one.
Fellow Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) voted for the bill so the deal could happen, although he was also reluctant to support higher TAA funding.
Democrats defended the program, saying American workers should receive help if the government’s free trade deals with other nations cause them to lose their job. “Over the last two years, almost a half-million Americans have begun a new chapter in their lives with the help of Trade Adjustment Assistance,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said.
The free-trade agreements were all signed under the Bush Administration, but have been delayed by President Obama. The President expressed concerns that Colombia was encouraging violence against unions and that the agreement with South Korea does not adequately protect American automakers.
Republicans accuse the President of deferring to Democratic protectionists. House Speaker John Boehner urged Obama to submit the trade deals to the House before the body votes on the TAA program.