Both political parties have long supported aid for Americans thrown out of work by foreign competition, but a dispute over renewal of that program is putting three important trade deals at risk.
Democrats and Republicans must quickly forge a reasonable compromise to save the accords, which would boost U.S. exports by an estimated $13 billion a year.
The pending deals are with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, and dithering over their terms has gone on for years.
The South Korean market is especially attractive to farmers in the Midwest because the deal pending in Washington would immediately wipe out South Korean duties on the majority of American agricultural products.
Republicans say the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which doles out aid to workers laid off because of imports or outsourcing, has become bloated and should be scaled back.
They have a point. In 2002, the program aided 50,000 workers and cost $500 million. Last year it aided 234,000 workers and cost $975 million. And the GOP points to studies, including one by the Government Accountability Office, raising questions about the program’s effectiveness.
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