Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on August 3 a procedural agreement for Senate consideration of legislation to renew the Trade Adjustment Assistance ("TAA") program for workers whose jobs are displaced by imports and to implement the pending Free Trade Agreements ("FTAs") with Colombia, Korea, and Panama. The details of this procedural agreement and its implementation remain unclear. Moreover, there remains a partisan divide regarding expectations as to the ultimate legislative outcome. President Obama and congressional Democrats are insisting that passage of the FTAs be accompanied by passage of TAA renewal, while congressional Republicans are offering only a guaranteed vote on TAA in exchange for the Administration submitting the FTAs under special fast track procedures, with no guarantee that TAA renewal will pass.
The timeframe for moving forward on the FTA/TAA legislative package, regardless of how the legislative procedure is ultimately structured, is also uncertain. This is because of the limited number of legislative days in September and the pressing need for Congress to focus on budget and appropriations issues before expiration of the current fiscal year on September 30. These considerations have led a number of interested observers to speculate that Congress may not vote on TAA and the FTAs until October or even later. On a related matter, Senate confirmation of nominees to several important trade positions in the Commerce Department, Office of the US Trade Representative, and the International Trade Commission also remains uncertain, as 44 Republican senators have pledged to block the confirmation of all Administration nominees to trade-related positions until President Obama submits the pending FTAs to Congress.