This was a vote on an amendment by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) that would have prohibited workers from receiving trade adjustment assistance (TAA) unless they lost their job as a direct result of a free-trade agreement. This amendment was offered to legislation that would extend a non-controversial trade program known as the “General System of Preferences” through 2013.
Since the enactment of the TAA in the 1960s, the program had been restricted to helping workers who had lost their job as a result of the U.S. entering into a free-trade agreement with a foreign country. In 2009, an economic stimulus law expanded eligibility for TAA to include workers who had lost their jobs as a result of trade generally—in other words, to those workers whose jobs had simply been outsourced to foreign countries. Rubio’s amendment would have reimposed the restrictions on TAA eligibility that had been in place until 2009.
Rubio urged support for his amendment: “From its inception, TAA has been linked to free trade. Basically the understanding is when you enter into free-trade agreements with another country, there are short-term disruptions and you need a fund available to help workers transition during the disruption. Very simply put, you have a job, maybe it goes overseas in the free-trade agreement, but a new job is created in America as a result of that agreement and we are going to help you transition through this fund. That was the purpose of it until 2009 when under the stimulus bill that has been changed and has been vastly expanded. Now in order to qualify for it, all you need to prove is that somehow your job or the company you work for has moved operations potentially overseas. That is a big problem in America….This is a pretty simple amendment. It says this assistance is only available to those workers who lose their jobs to a country we have a free-trade agreement with because this is designed to deal with the unintended consequences and the temporary disruptions that might be created by a free-trade agreement with another country. So that is what the amendment does, and I am hoping to have the support of as many of my colleagues as possible in putting this program back into its historical purpose.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) opposed Rubio’s amendment: “The Rubio amendment would only cover workers who lose their jobs due to trade with those 17 countries with which we have a trade agreement. In some ways--this is my own opinion on it--it puts the burden on the workers to somehow prove they are in the right category when the burden should be on us to make sure we are doing everything possible to help them--again, short-term help for the crisis, long-term help by way of skill development. We have 14 million people in the country out of work; 14.4 million is what I saw at last count. Of the 14.4 million people, almost 4.5 million have been out of work for 1 year or more. Just imagine that. That is bigger than the population of a number of states. In Pennsylvania we have 12.5 million people. If we can just consider more than one-third of a State's population being out of work for more than 1 year. So we have a lot of people who are out of work a long time, and they are especially disadvantaged if they happen to work in those industries that are particularly sensitive to or adversely impacted by trade with countries that are not playing by the rules.”
[The General System of Preferences program allows developing nations to ship raw materials to the U.S. without paying duties on those products. Senate Democrats had brought up the non-controversial General System of Preferences bill with the intention of amending it in order to extend trade adjustment assistance programs through fiscal year 2016. (The extension of TAA--which provides job retraining to workers who lost their jobs as a result of trade policy--would effectively clear the way for the enactment of free-trade agreements between the U.S. and Colombia, South Korea, and Panama; President Obama had indicated he would send those agreements to Congress for approval if the House and Senate passed legislation to extend TAA.)]
The Senate rejected Rubio’s amendment by a vote of 34-62. Voting “yea” were 34 Republicans. All 53 Democrats and 9 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have prohibited workers from receiving trade adjustment assistance unless they lost their job as a direct result of a free-trade agreement.