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Do state Republicans support killing TAA?

Washington state disproportionately benefits from a federal program to help workers and businesses harmed by U.S. trade policies. As Republican leaders in Congress try to kill the program, where does Washington’s delegation stand?

By David Groves
The Stand

Up is down these days in the sorry political machinations of U.S. trade policy.

As the New York Times reports today, “In an upside-down pair of performances, Democratic senators filled half a hearing room to declare their support for trade deals opposed by much of their party’s political base, while Republican senators stood before television cameras to declare that they would not allow a hearing on legislation that much of their own base strongly supports.”

What’s going on? Democrats are pushing to reauthorize a robust Trade Adjustment Assistance program to help workers who lose their jobs as a result of offshoring and increased imports. Eligible workers at TAA-certified companies can get fully funded short- or long-term training in approved programs, health-care coverage subsidies, assistance with their job search and relocation costs, and perhaps most importantly, extended weekly income support beyond the usual 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.

Democrats in Congress and the White House are insisting that TAA approval be coupled with votes on new free trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia. Republicans support passage of those FTAs, but they want to get rid of the TAA program. Organized labor opposes these FTAs — as do the vast majority of the American people — because they are more of the same NAFTA-like job-killing agreements that have decimated U.S. manufacturing and promote corporate investment in nations with lax labor and environmental standards.

However, labor strongly supports TAA reauthorization to mitigate the harm being done by these existing U.S. trade policies.

Back in February, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to hold a vote on extending the TAA. Because of his blockade, the TAA program that been strengthened in 2009, reverted back to its 2002 version that covers fewer workers and offers lower benefits and fewer opportunities for displaced workers. The White House told Republicans in May that it would not consider three pending trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia until Congress reauthorizes the enhanced TAA. It hasn’t happened, and now the stalemate is jeopardizing the White House’s self-imposed deadline to pass the FTAs by the end of July.

At this point, Republican leaders in both the House and Senate are insisting that TAA — which they intend to kill — must be considered separately. They agree with the assessment of the right-wing Heritage Foundation that the TAA program is “ineffective” and offers “overly generous benefits” at a time when “out-of-control spending and surging public debt [are] threatening our nation’s stability.”

So where does Washington’s delegation stand on TAA?

All Congressional Democrats from Washington support reauthorization of a robust TAA, but Republicans from this state are dodging the question. Only Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s (R-Vancouver) office would respond to The Stand’s request for their position on TAA.

Rep. Herrera Beutler “doesn’t agree with the Heritage Foundation here,” said Casey Bowman, her communications director. “The congresswoman believes that the TAA program can be a useful tool in maintaining economic opportunities through the transition of a trade agreement.” He said it is not clear what form TAA reauthorization will take at this point and declined to say how she would vote.

Given state Republicans’ active support of the budget-cutting frenzy in the other Washington — our entire GOP delegation supported ending Medicare as it exists today — why are they dodging the question on eliminating the comparatively tiny TAA or even hinting, as Rep. Herrera Beutler does, that they disagree with their party leadership and support TAA?

Perhaps it’s because Washington state has had a significant number of laid-off workers and businesses that benefit from the program. And because it has proving very successful not only at retraining laid-off workers, but also at helping those workers find new jobs.

According to the latest statistics available, more than 5,300 Washington workers received TAA benefits in 2010 and nearly 78% of the participating workers got jobs within three months of exiting the program, compared to a national average of 53%.

Plus, some heavy-hitting corporations in Washington that have laid off workers in recent years have been TAA certified, making those workers eligible for benefits. They include:

KENMORE TRUCK CO. — The company was found to have laid off workers while it shifted production to Mexico.

BOEING — The company cut jobs and production in 2009 while it “reduced the domestic portion of production of aircraft components and subassemblies.”

WEYERHAEUSER — Multiple facilities around the state, including mills in Longview, Raymond and Pe Ell, were TAA certified, often due to increased imports of cheaper softwood.

In addition to those Weyerhaeuser facilities and other lumber mills, Rep. Herrera Beutler has a disproportionate number of TAA-certified businesses — some big, some small — in her 3rd Congressional District of Southwest Washington. Companies that used to produce silicon wafers, including Saint-Gobain Crystrals of Washougal and Silicon Forest Industries of Vancouver, shifted production overseas. A few other examples of TAA-certified companies in her district:

  • Hewlett Packard in Vancouver shifted development and support services to foreign countries.
  • Dex One in Vancouver shifted graphic design services overseas.
  • Imperial Fabricating in Chehalis shifted production to Mexico.
  • Interdent Service Corp in Vancouver shifted billing and collections services to India.
  • Royne Industries in Kalama shifted production to Mexico.
  • Tensolite of Vancouver shifted production to China.

The bottom line: As the ideological debate and procedural tap-dance over TAA plays out in Washington D.C., the lives and well-being of thousands of Washington families hang in the balance.

Stay tuned to see where our elected representatives stand on this issue. Or better still, contact them yourself and tell them what YOU want for them to do.

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