July 14, 2024

Republicans Boycott a Hearing on Trade

In an upside-down pair of performances, Democratic senators filled half a hearing room to declare their support for trade deals opposed by much of their party’s political base, while Republican senators stood before television cameras to declare that they would not allow a hearing on legislation that much of their own base strongly supports.

Senator Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, said Republicans were responding to a decision by the White House to include in the free trade legislation the expansion of a benefits program for workers who lose jobs to foreign competition.

“We made it clear time and time and time again that we would not stomach attaching a big government spending program onto these agreements,” Mr. Hatch said. “The president knew where we stood, and he decided to ignore those who don’t agree with him.”

Democrats, in turn, said Republicans were blocking legislation that would help the economy.

“They want the country to be in as bad shape as possible because that might help them electorally,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.

The breakdown came less than 48 hours after the Obama administration announced a deal with House Republicans and Senate Democrats over the terms of the benefits program. An expansion passed by Democrats in 2009 lapsed at the beginning of this year. The agreement would reinstate about 60 percent of the lapsed financing for an additional two years.

Democrats had demanded the deal as a condition of their support for the trade agreements. House Republicans agreed reluctantly, after several weeks of negotiations.

The agreement, however, did not include Senate Republicans. Mere minutes before the Senate Finance Committee convened Thursday afternoon to consider the legislative package, the Republican members invoked Senate rules to prevent the meeting.

“That’s it,” said a frustrated Senator Max Baucus, the committee’s chairman. “We’re waiting.” Then, after all the Democrats spoke, they got up and left.

The three free trade agreements, which would eliminate tariffs on cross-border transactions, would expand annual exports of American goods by about $12 billion, according to estimates by the United States International Trade Commission. It would also create new opportunities for American service providers to compete in the three countries.

The pacts were negotiated by the Bush administration and are strongly backed by the United States Chamber of Commerce and other business trade groups. For most of the intervening years, Republicans pressed for a vote on the pacts while Democrats resisted.

The Obama administration, which is focused on expanding trade to invigorate growth, changed that dynamic. It has sought to win Democratic support for the deals through measures to protect American workers from negative consequences.

The compromise reached this week would provide $964 million in additional financing for the benefits program, almost all of which would be spent by 2013.

The Obama administration plans to submit that deal as part of the pact with South Korea, to give Democrats the assurance that it will rise or fall with the pacts.

House Republicans say they will hold separate votes on the trade pact and the benefits program.

Senate Republicans, many of whom oppose any additional financing for the benefits program, and who lack the power to set the terms of debate, said that their actions Thursday were an assertion of the rights of the minority party to be heard and respected.

“We tried everything in our power to work with the majority to find a resolution,” Mr. Hatch said.

Republicans cannot prevent the legislation from leaving the committee, but they can delay it. Democrats said that continuing to do so would hurt the economy.

“This boycott means the opportunity to pass important job-creation legislation is now delayed,” Mr. Baucus said. “American workers — and our economy — simply can’t afford to wait any longer.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d601546dff83096b74dd64f3d14ea351

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