This was a vote on an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that would have eliminated all funding for Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms (TAAF), a program that provides financial assistance to manufacturers that had been adversely affected by competition from imported products. This amendment was offered to legislation that would provide annual funding in fiscal year 2012 for Agriculture, Transportation, and Commerce Department programs.
McCain urged support for his amendment: “It [the amendment] is the proposal of the president of the United States [President Obama]. I think it would be hard for my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to argue he is insensitive to the plight of firms and individuals and companies that are affected by free-trade agreements. According to the president's termination list [a list of programs that Obama proposed to eliminate], a message he sent over to Congress, the justification goes on to say: `The Administration believes that it would be more effective to concentrate EDA's [the Economic Development Administration, which funds trade adjustment assistance programs] resources on public investments in infrastructure and institutions that promote innovation and entrepreneurship.' The inclusion of this program in the President's termination list is strong evidence we should no longer be funding the program. It also begs the question: Why are we choosing to spend almost $16 million on a program we don't need and has consistently had its effectiveness questioned? This is money we don't have and don't need to spend….I have always been skeptical of trade adjustment assistance and similar programs such as this one for firms. I believe these programs are potential vehicles for government waste, where market interference unfairly puts the government in the position of choosing winners and losers. I believe the evidence stating that trade adjustment assistance and similar programs achieve their goals is suspect as well.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) opposed McCain’s amendment: “U.S. trade policy should, I believe, work in the best interests of the American people, especially American workers and American companies….Our workers and our companies need safeguards against employment disruptions caused by our trade policies or sometimes caused by our lack of a trade policy. That is one of the reasons why trade adjustment assistance is so important, that we extend it as we have to help workers and the companies they work for deal with the repercussions of bad trade deals and unfair competition, unfair trade that impacts our workers. There is an effort by this amendment to somehow change the dynamic as it relates to firms. I know in Pennsylvania, in calendar 2010, 51 companies in our State were accepted into the program. Fifty-one individual companies were accepted into the trade adjustment assistance program to help those companies rebound, to recover from the ravages of international trade. Supporting these firms as they work to better compete against foreign imports will help protect the jobs of the workers in those firms.”
The Senate rejected McCain’s amendment by a vote of 44-55. 43 Republicans and 1 Democrat voted “yea.” 51 Democrats and 4 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the Senate rejected an amendment that would have eliminated all funding for a program (the TAAF program). that provides financial assistance to manufacturers that had been adversely affected by imports competition. Thus, funding for the TAAF program remained intact.