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Senate’s Portman Says Republicans to Ensure Worker-Aid Vote

Senates Portman Says Republicans to Ensure Worker-Aid Vote
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, conduct a news conference on free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. Photographer: Tom Williams/Roll Call/Getty Images

U.S. Senator Rob Portman said Republicans will guarantee a vote on aid for workers displaced by foreign competition, offering a path to renew the program should the Obama administration separate it from trade accords.

Portman, an Ohio Republican, said he, Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri and 10 other Republicans would vote to end debate on Trade Adjustment Assistance if presented as a standalone bill. The administration plans to send Congress the aid program as part of free-trade agreements, which are covered by fast-track authority. The support, with backing from Democrats, would help get the 60 votes needed to break a potential filibuster and allow a vote to renew the aid program, Portman said.

“We need 7 Republican votes to find 60,” Portman said last night at the Washington International Trade Association’s dinner in Washington, referring to the 51 Democrats and 2 independents who often vote with the party. “We were asked to find 7, we’ve found 12.”

Approval of trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, reached under President George W. Bush, stalled last month after Republicans opposed considering worker aid and trade deals in the same legislation. White House Chief of Staff William Daley said last week the administration was preparing to send a trade bill with worker aid attached because Republicans “have yet to present a credible alternative to getting this legislation passed in a timely fashion.”

Fast-Track Authority

Trade accords are considered under rules intended to ban amendments, limit debate and ensure an up-or-down vote. The worker-aid program wouldn’t qualify for Senate fast-track consideration if separated from the trade deals.

A cloture vote on the aid program may lead to Senate passage, Doug Goudie, director for international trade policy at the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington, said today in an interview.

“It has solid support on the Democratic side and I believe some Republicans that would support it as well,” Goudie said.

President Barack Obama plans to delay sending the accords to Congress until lawmakers return from an August recess as the dispute with Republicans remains unresolved, people familiar with the decision said yesterday.

The administration is in “active discussions” with congressional leaders to advance worker aid and trade deals as soon as possible, said Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.

“The announcement by a number of Senate Republicans supporting passage of Trade Adjustment Assistance is a welcome development,” she said. “What’s needed now is a commitment from leadership in both chambers on the specifics of how they will move the three trade agreements and TAA.”

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has said that worker aid should be separated from the free-trade agreements. Boehner said this month he hasn’t ruled out holding separate votes on the aid and trade pacts, then combining them before sending a bill to the Senate.

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