This was a vote on an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that would cut funding for trade adjustment assistance (TAA, which provides job retraining to workers who have lost their jobs as a result of trade agreements) by $1 billion per year, which would have effectively reduced TAA funding to 2008 levels.
Specifically, an economic stimulus bill enacted in 2009 had increased funding for TAA by approximately $1 billion per year in order to cover more dislocated workers whose jobs had been outsourced to foreign countries. Many Republicans opposed this expansion of TAA, and McCain’s amendment would have reduced TAA funding to pre-stimulus levels, or 2008 levels.
McCain urged support for his amendment: “In 2009, without any action taken on our three pending trade agreements, the stimulus package dramatically increased the TAA program as part of the stimulus bill and increased spending on this program annually by approximately $1 billion. In essence, a program that was designed to assist workers who had been adversely affected by free trade was transformed into a domestic spending program for reasons that had nothing at all to do with expanding free trade….I am very dubious about the benefits of TAA. But I understand also what is doable around here and what is not. So I am offering this amendment as a matter of principle. As I have said many times on the floor of this body, I am not opposed to TAA nor do I seek to kill it. I read the same media reports as my colleagues, which suggest that the White House is holding hostage the trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama until Congress passes TAA. Many of us do not like this. Many of us think this is contrary to our national and economic interests. But it is a fact. So I recognize, as in the past, that Congress should reauthorize TAA. The question is, how much of the taxpayers' money should we spend to do it?”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) opposed McCain’s amendment: “Because of the changes made in 2009 [in the economic stimulus bill], we were able to help--the U.S. government, by way of TAA--41 percent more individuals. That is relevant because it was helping folks to be retrained, helping them to get the skills they needed for a new career, a new job, at the time they needed it--during the worst economic catastrophe in 100 years, other than the Great Depression. So if there were ever a time when we needed to make sure that TAA worked--and it has worked--and, also, if there were ever a time when we wanted to make sure that TAA was strengthened and enhanced, it was during the last couple of years. That is the point, that the 2009 changes were made because we were in the throes, the teeth, the grip of the worst economic downturn in 100 years, other than in the 1930s….For example, in my home state of Pennsylvania, what all this means, if you look at the total number of workers helped in this time period--again, talking about roughly the 2 years between May of 2009 to June of 2011 in Pennsylvania--there were 27,401 people helped. Workers helped, I should say. Of that, about 36 percent were helped solely because of the Recovery Act [stimulus bill] changes….Democrats and Republicans all say they want workers to get back into the workforce. This is one of the ways we do it. It is very practical. In order to get from here to there--from unemployment to employment, and in a lot of cases to a new job or a new career--you need to be trained. That is what TAA does.”
[This amendment was offered to legislation that would extend a non-controversial trade program known as the “General System of Preferences” through 2013. This 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 McCain’s amendment by a vote of 46-53. 46 Republicans voted “yea.” All 52 Democrats present and 1 Republican voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have cut funding for trade adjustment assistance by $1 billion per year, which would have effectively reduced TAA funding to 2008 levels.