Congress moved closer to approving new free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea after a procedural vote in the Senate Monday afternoon.
By an 84–8 vote, the Senate passed a cloture motion on the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) — a trade measure that would allow 129 countries duty-free access to certain American goods. Business groups and Republicans have pressed for passage of the trade agreements, saying they will increase revenue and create jobs.
But the measure is not without partisan opposition.
It now heads back to the U.S. House, where an amendment providing assistance for American workers who lose their jobs because of free trade — known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) — will likely be attached. Democrats have made it clear their support of the free trade agreements hinges on inclusion of that amendment.
Sen. Max Baucus said the TAA was necessary to provide assistance and training to the unemployed, helping “them earn that dignity that comes with putting in a good day of work.”
But the free-market advocacy group Club for Growth has called the TAA “duplicative” and “overly generous” because the unemployed already qualify for 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.
“It’s inequitable and inappropriate because TAA pays benefits to workers who lose their jobs due to trade (something that’s difficult to calculate and susceptible to manipulation),” the Club for Growth said in a statement. “No benefits are due a worker who lost his job to technology or competition (something we also don’t advocate).
“Our country can neither afford this program, nor should the government be in the business of providing such a benefit.”