Iowans split on party lines as Congress approves three trade deals

The U.S. House and Senate approved trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and South Korea yesterday. All Iowa Republicans supported each of the three deals, while Iowa Democrats voted against them. Links to roll calls and statements from most of the lawmakers are after the jump.

President George W. Bush’s administration negotiated all three trade agreements, but President Barack Obama just submitted the bills to Congress last week:

The three pacts have been held up for years over disagreements between Democrats and Republicans over the need to extend Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a government program that provides job training, income support and health care assistance for workers displaced by free trade agreements. Passage of TAA is a requirement for the White House before they will send to Congress trade bills with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. But Republicans see the program as duplicative, expensive and ineffective.

The Senate passed a bill last month that was a compromise worked out between Senate Democrats and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.). It would extend TAA, but reform it to cut the length of income support by 13 weeks from 130 to 117 weeks, cut the price of the program and fully offset the cost with spending cuts elsewhere. It would also completely eliminate a health coverage tax credit for displaced workers by 2013. Additionally, the bill would require the Department of Labor provide Congress with information on how quickly a worker can find a job to try to find some metric for the program’s success or failure.

The first deal to reach the House floor on October 12 was the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. It passed by 262 votes to 167. Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voted with the majority of their caucus for the bill. Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) voted against it, as did all but 31 House Democrats.

The United States-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement passed with a larger 300 to 129 majority, and the United States-Korea Trade Agreement passed by 278 to 151. Iowa’s representatives split on party lines again.

After the trade deals, the House approved the bill extending Trade Adjustment Assistance by 307 to 122. All of the House Democrats present voted for this bill. The GOP caucus was split roughly in half; Latham voted yes, while King voted no.

The Senate easily approved all three trade deals despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s opposition. The South Korea agreement passed by the largest margin of 83 to 15. The Panama agreement passed by 77 to 22. The deal with Colombia was the most contentious, passing by 66 to 33. Senator Tom Harkin voted against all of the trade deals, while Senator Chuck Grassley supported them all.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that during House debate yesterday, Democrats sought to add the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act to the Colombian trade agreement. That amendment was rejected on a mostly party-line vote; Boswell, Braley and Loebsack supported adding the currency reform legislation to the deal, while Latham and King opposed the measure. I don’t understand why House Republicans were so united against this bill. It passed the Senate on October 11 with support from 16 GOP Senators, including Grassley.

Obama hailed final passage of the trade agreements, claiming that they would help “American workers and businesses” by boosting exports. I share the sentiments of the advocacy group Public Citizen:

At a time of 9 percent unemployment and broad public opposition to more NAFTA-style trade agreements, it’s a fairly shocking shift away from the president’s job-creation message to suddenly call on Congress to pass three old Bush trade deals that the federal government’s own studies say will increase the U.S. trade deficit.

The Korea FTA is the most economically significant since NAFTA, is projected to increase our trade deficit in key “jobs of the future” sectors such as computers, high-speed trains and solar, and result in the loss of an additional 159,000 U.S. jobs.

Congress should not even be considering a trade deal with Colombia, where scores of trade unionists, human rights defenders and Afro-Colombians are murdered or displaced from their lands every year and conditions have worsened since the administration signed off on an unenforceable “Labor Action Plan.” At a time when America is trying to reduce the national debt, Congress should not be considering a trade deal with Panama, a notorious tax-haven where U.S. firms and wealthy individuals go to dodge their taxes.

On the other hand, some Democrats claimed the Obama administration won significant concessions in the agreements with Panama and South Korea:

Panama agreed to tax transparency steps, and South Korea agreed to what the U.S. side ultimately said was a more balanced agreement on autos.

The latter deal was so good that House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) argued several times that the deal would be a win for U.S. auto makers.

“This is a jobs bill,” Levin said. “We have to be able to compete, and our auto industry can now compete.”

Incidentally, Braley’s office released a statement last week pointing out that Obama had spoken out against these trade agreements as a presidential candidate:

Braley and Populist Caucus Demand Answers from Obama on Trade Agreements

Call on Obama to Keep Campaign Promise and Oppose Free Trade Agreements

Washington, DC – Today, Congressman Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Vice Chairs of the House Populist Caucus demanded answers from President Obama on the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.  In a letter to the President, the Populist Caucus leadership questioned why Obama changed his position on the pending free trade agreements.  The letter points out many instances where Obama said he was opposed to the free trade agreements while he was campaigning for President.

“When it comes to trade, American workers prefer candidate Obama to President Obama.” said Rep. Braley.

Congressman Braley serves as the Chairman of the Populist Caucus, which has advocated for proposals to create jobs in America.  The Caucus has supported various job creation legislation including bills that would reinvest in American manufacturing, rebuild our aging infrastructure and encourage more products to be made in America.

A PDF copy of the Populist Caucus letter to Obama can be viewed at the following link:

The full text of the letter is also posted on Braley’s Congressional website.

Senator Grassley’s office released this statement on October 12 after the Senate approved the trade agreements:

“Exports have an important part to play in the economic recovery effort.  Private sector employers need an international trade agenda that opens new doors to sell U.S. agricultural goods, manufactured products and services.  These votes in the Senate are a very important step in the right direction, but they were delayed unnecessarily for years, and the rest of the world is moving ahead without us.  We’re more than capable of increasing exports, but we need the markets to do it.  The President has said he wants to double exports.  In order to reach his goal and to do everything possible to generate economic activity and opportunities in the United States, the administration needs to move forward on other job-generating trade initiatives without delay.”

I haven’t yet seen a comment from Harkin, but will update this post if one appears. UPDATE: Here it is.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued the following statement as the U.S. Senate considers trade agreements with Korea, Columbia and Panama.

“I took many aspects of these trade agreements and their impact on my home state of Iowa into account as I decided my vote on these proposals.  I understand that there are important provisions that could reduce or eliminate obstacles to increase exports of Iowa agricultural products, manufactured goods and services offered by Iowa businesses.  I listened intently to those who favor these agreements as the next step in expanding the export market for pork, beef, grain, agricultural and advanced manufacturing products.  But after much consideration, I cannot support these trade agreements.

“History shows that the impact of various trade agreements is not experienced equally.  Over the last 30 years, as America’s trade deficit has surged to over $500 billion in 2010, our manufacturing sector has been decimated.  Iowans have felt these effects as much as other areas of the industrial heartland.  As manufacturing has declined, so have the good middle class jobs that form the backbone of Iowa’s economy and the foundation of our middle class.

“Right now, rebuilding the American middle class should be Congress’s number one priority. Unfortunately, when judged against this benchmark, these trade agreements do not measure up.  For example, the International Trade Commission’s report on the Korea agreement indicates that the net effect will be to increase our trade deficit with that country.  Every dollar that we send abroad through a higher trade deficit is a lost opportunity to invest here at home in the products and industries we need to rebuild our economy and create good, middle class jobs.

“I firmly believe that American workers make the best products in the world, and I cannot support an agreement that would further endanger the American manufacturing industry and its workers.  And I would also vehemently oppose any agreement that puts American workers in greater competition with countries like Columbia that have low wages, poor working conditions and a record of manifest disregard for workers’ rights.  Instead of participating in this race to the bottom, we must support policies that create a level playing field for American companies that play by the rules and treat their workers with dignity and respect.

“I have voted for Free Trade Agreements in the past, and I would welcome the opportunity to do so again in the future, provided that they are fair agreements that better protect the interests of U.S. workers and the American economy.  Despite providing some important benefits, particularly in these tough economic times, these agreements do not meet that test.”

I haven’t seen a new statement from Braley since the House approved the trade deals, but his Populist Caucus letter from last week makes his position clear.

Statement from Loebsack:

“At a time when our economy is struggling to recover, Congress should be focusing on creating jobs and promoting recovery, not threatening to ship Iowans’ jobs overseas.  Since 1994, when NAFTA was implemented, Iowa has lost 21,560 manufacturing jobs, or nearly 10 percent of its manufacturing base.  The jobs lost since NAFTA was signed account for 6.5 percent of the current unemployment rate in the state.  We must use every tool in our arsenal to grow our economy and put Iowans back to work.  NAFTA failed Iowa the first time and these NAFTA-style free trade agreements are a missed opportunity.

“Once again, the House leadership is pushing legislation that will send jobs overseas just a week after saying they would not allow a vote on legislation that could create 1.4 million jobs in America by stopping China from manipulating its currency and pushing American-made goods out of our own market.  This is hypocritical and Iowa workers deserve better.”

Statement from Boswell:

“This shaky trade legislation is not a true job-creator. The reality is these deals put tens of thousands of jobs on the line during an especially difficult time for our country. Let us not forget the effects of previous trade agreements on our communities – the most vivid example being Newton when thousands of workers lost their jobs after the Maytag plant closure. We cannot risk that again by allowing trade agreements that only benefit big corporations at the expense of our working class.”

Statement from Latham:



Washington, Oct 12 – Iowa Congressman Tom Latham stood with Iowa agriculture, manufacturers and employees with his vote in favor of free trade agreements between the U.S. and three other nations that will create thousands of Iowa jobs and open key international markets to Iowa products, services and agricultural commodities.

The agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea all received the approval of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.

“Too many Americans wake up every day to grim economic news and deep anxiety about our job market,” Congressman Latham said. “Approval of these free trade agreements will create jobs across our state and open new markets for Iowa products and commodities.  This is an important step in the right direction toward putting America back to work.”

Congressman Latham said the agreements will spark job growth in some of Iowa’s most important economic sectors, including agriculture and manufacturing.  The American Farm Bureau Federation expects the three agreements to increase direct agricultural exports from Iowa alone by $162.2 million per year.  The expanded markets assured by the agreements could create as many as 1,460 agriculture-related jobs in Iowa, according to the Farm Bureau, increasing trade for Iowa soybeans, pork, corn, beef and processed food and fish.

“These agreements will create real jobs and opportunities across Iowa,” Congressman Latham said. “We can’t afford to let politics, partisanship or posturing stand in the way.  This is good for Iowa, and it’s good for the United States.”

The U.S. economy stands to gain jobs in numerous sectors by leveling the playing field for American goods and services in foreign markets.  The agreements will remove barriers that have traditionally made U.S. trade with the three nations more costly.  For instance, the average South Korean tariff for U.S. exporters is more than four times the average tariff that Korean exporters face in the U.S. market.  

The free trade agreements also will help the United States to stay competitive in a global economy that increasingly is becoming integrated.

Congressman Latham has been a strong supporter of the three free trade agreements. In June, he joined Sen. Charles Grassley and Rep. Steve King in a letter applauding Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s support of the agreements, noting their critical importance to Iowa’s economy and jobs market.

I will add King’s statement to this post later; at this writing, that page is not coming up on his Congressional website.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee kept quiet about yesterday’s votes on the trade deals, presumably because the Democratic caucus was divided on the issue. However, the DCCC quickly sent out a press release bashing King for opposing the bill to extend Trade Adjustment Assistance. Excerpt:

Despite the fact that the U.S. has lost 2.8 million jobs from outsourcing with China alone, Representative Steve King (IA-05) voted against extending Trade Adjustment Assistance that provides much needed retraining to workers and others who lost their jobs due to unfair trade practices. While this critical retraining passed with a bipartisan majority in the Senate, King continues to oppose it.

Republicans like Representative King did support protecting taxpayer funds for corporations that ship American jobs overseas but wants to penalize the Iowa families laid off as a result. The Trade Adjustment Assistance would provide job training and aid to 1,990 displaced workers in Iowa.

“Representative Steve King happily spends taxpayer money subsidizing companies that ship Iowa jobs overseas but opposes critical job retraining and income support for the workers laid off by unfair trade and outsourcing,” said Jesse Ferguson of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Representative Steve King voted against Trade Adjustment Assistance for 1,990 workers across Iowa who would lose out on critically needed retraining and financial assistance – adding insult to injury after they’ve already lost their jobs to places like China and India.”

In other Congressional news this week, Senate Republicans and a few Democrats filibustered Obama’s job-creation bill on Tuesday night. Grassley backed the filibuster, while Harkin slammed the GOP:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today issued the following statement on the ongoing filibuster of President Obama’s jobs bill by Senate Republicans.  Harkin chairs both the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee that funds health, education and labor initiatives.

“Millions of Americans continue to look for work unsuccessfully, because the jobs just simply do not exist.  And while the economy lags, Senate Republicans continue to demonstrate a callous disregard for the most pressing issues facing our nation: joblessness and lack of economic growth.  

“Today’s obstruction of President Obama’s job creation plans shows that Senate Republicans feel it is more important to be against the President than to be for jobs and the middle class.  Having already blocked other job creating legislation this year, including a small business bill and an economic development bill, it is hardly surprising, though no less disappointing, that Republicans would put politics ahead of Americans who are trying to make ends meet.

“It is time to end the political infighting in Washington and pass the American Jobs Act so that we can create jobs, renew federal unemployment benefits and get our economy moving again.”

Grassley released this statement:

“Since the 2009 stimulus bill was enacted, it’s unclear that anything’s been done to better safeguard the taxpayer dollars that would be pumped out in a second massive government spending bill like this one, despite the wasteful spending we saw with the first stimulus bill. My own oversight pinpointed money for housing assistance squandered by gross mismanagement, funds going to contractors and grantees who owed the government hundreds of millions of dollars in tax debts, stimulus dollars directed to school districts known for poor fiscal management, big spending for electronic records conversion in a health technology system not yet prepared to handle it, programs to create green jobs that didn’t result in any jobs, and trouble even defining what qualified as a green job. Weatherization grants funded by the first stimulus program even created safety hazards because monitoring, testing and tracking the work fell by the wayside.

“What’s more, President Obama’s first stimulus bill didn’t keep the unemployment rate down, and it’s unclear how this one would create and sustain jobs. Beyond that, whatever the details of the tax increase, there’s plenty of evidence that raising taxes in a struggling economy only makes things worse. Plus, since World War II, every dollar in new taxes has resulted in $1.17 in government spending. We need to reduce government spending, not increase it. Growing deficits and debt get in the way of economic growth and opportunity.

“Instead of a proposal that emphasizes higher taxes and more government spending, it’s time for a new approach in Washington for economic recovery. Private-sector employers need more certainty. They need to know that higher taxes and more burdensome regulations are not just around the corner. They need an international trade agenda that opens up new opportunities to sell U.S. manufactured products and services. Affordable energy is needed, too. It’s time to ramp up production of traditional energy sources here at home and to expand alternative and renewable energy sources. Above all, Washington needs to do what it can to give employers confidence and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of big and small businesses nationwide.”

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