February 27, 2024

Senate Passes Worker Aid Program

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The Senate handed President Obama a victory on Thursday by passing a program to help workers displaced by foreign competition, paving the way for action on three long-delayed trade deals.

The Senate voted to approve a bill containing a revamped Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which Mr. Obama had demanded as his price for sending free-trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama to Congress.

“Today’s vote is a major victory for American workers and a key step forward in our efforts to approve the job-creating free-trade agreements,” Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and head of the finance committee, said in a statement.

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, urged Mr. Obama to now show some “trust” in Republicans by submitting the agreements to Congress before the House has voted on the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill — a view that was echoed later by the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio.

The retraining and income assistance program, which dates back to 1962, was expanded in the 2009 stimulus bill to cover more workers and provide more generous health insurance benefits.

However, the expanded provisions expired at the beginning of this year, and Republicans bent on reducing government spending balked at renewing them.

The bill passed by the Senate renews many of the 2009 provisions through 2013, like covering service industry workers in addition to those in manufacturing.

But it reduces the number of weeks of income support to 117 from 156 in the 2009 law, with up to 13 additional weeks available only under certain circumstances.

It also scales back a tax credit to help unemployed workers pay for health insurance, and makes it harder for people to receive income assistance if they are not in a retraining program.

The package costs about $900 million over three years, compared with about $2.1 billion for the 2009 bill.

During Senate action, Democrats defeated several Republican attempts to further reduce program costs or explicitly tie the program to approval of the pending trade deals.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=404b8244030ed8c46fdc7d26ab4dbc77

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