Obama wants aid for displaced workers

@CNNMoney May 16, 2011: 1:50 PM ET

WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- It's tit for tat on trade treaties between President Obama and congressional Republicans.

Last month, Republicans threatened not to confirm Obama's nominee for commerce secretary unless he sent Congress trade treaties with Korea, Colombia and Panama for ratification.

Now it's Obama's turn: The White House said Monday that it won't forward the treaties to Congress for approval unless lawmakers work out a deal to extend funding for a jobs retraining program for laid-off workers.

"We are hopeful and optimistic we can work out a bipartisan agreement," said Gene Sperling, director of Obama's National Economic Council. But he said the White House wants a deal to extend the jobs program "locked in" before it sends the treaties to Capitol Hill. (Industries the jobs recovery forgot)

At issue is Trade Adjustment Assistance, a decades-old program that got a big funding boost with the 2009 economic Recovery Act.

The program gives unemployed workers financial help and job training when employers move jobs overseas. White House officials say that more than 435,000 workers would be eligible. Money for the program ran out in February.

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Republicans have said they are concerned about funding such stimulus programs because of the big deficits the nation faces.

"The administration's announcement that they will tie our three pending trade agreements to unrelated spending is hugely disappointing to American workers, farmers, and job creators, who are losing out to foreign competitors with every passing day," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, a key Republican on trade treaties. "It makes no sense to shut the door on increasing U.S. exports by over $10 billion in order to fund a costly program."

Many congressional Republicans and Democrats want to ratify the treaties to help boost the U.S. economy, particularly since some say the treaties could add as many as 250,000 jobs.

Despite Obama's effort to tie the treaties to something the unions want, the AFL-CIO and other labor groups continue to oppose the treaties, which they say don't do enough to protect workers' rights.

The administration wants to push ahead on both tracks.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said that before 2009, the Trade Adjustment Assistance program was "effectively a paper promise," because it was poorly managed and under funded.

"As we move forward with these ... agreements, we have to keep faith with American workers," Kirk added. To top of page

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