Business Lobby Support For Trade Agreements Bolsters Allegations That GOP Is "Sabotaging" The Economy

July 05, 2011 4:10 pm ET — Alan Pyke

Last week, when Republicans boycotted the markup of three free trade agreements they've been howling about for months, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-UT) excused the hypocritical delay by saying that "the Administration, to appease its political allies, is desperate to attach an extension of the stimulus level TAA to the Korea agreement." Sen. Hatch accused the White House of rushing the agreements through committee "right before the Fourth of July weekend."

"TAA" is Trade Adjustment Assistance, a technical-sounding name for a commonsense program whereby the same government that signs free trade agreements commits money to help American workers displaced by that free trade to find new jobs.

If Hatch sees protecting working Americans from the negative blowback that comes with free trade agreements as "appeas[ing]...political allies," so be it. That kind of partisanship is to be expected from a senator running scared from the Tea Party back home. What's strange is that even the business groups whose policy positions guide Hatch's legislative action want him to move these trade agreements along, with the job-protection spending attached. Why? From Roll Call:

"There really can be no more excuse for inaction. ... If jobs are really a priority for the Administration and Congress, then enacting these job-creating agreements must also be a priority," Business Roundtable President John Engler said in a statement.

"Support for a broad, positive trade agenda enjoys a long bipartisan tradition in Congress, as do such programs as Trade Adjustment Assistance, the Generalized System of Preferences and the Andean Trade Preference Act. Business Roundtable continues to believe in the merit of these programs," Engler added.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue's statement was remarkably similar. "In addition to broad support in Congress for the pending trade agreements, there has historically been bipartisan support for Trade Adjustment Assistance, the Generalized System of Preferences, and the Andean Trade Preference Act."

Donohue added, "I urge members of both parties to seize this reasonable compromise and move the trade agenda forward." So the business lobby says TAA is a noncontroversial component of free trade, enjoying "broad support" and "a long bipartisan tradition in Congress." That flies in the face of Hatch spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier's claim that TAA is "an unrelated spending measure" and Hatch's statement at the American Enterprise Institute last week that "TAA is a deeply controversial spending program."

Republicans are making disingenuous arguments against legislation that their own side says will spur economic growth, which bolsters Sen. Charles Schumer's (D-NY) charge that Republicans are sabotaging the economy in order to win in 2012. Hatch's dishonest dithering on free trade is just the latest data point in a strong argument: The GOP knows the economy is key to President Obama's reelection and they are actively undermining economic growth while shifting their own focus away from jobs. Apparently Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was speaking for the party when he said that defeating Obama is "the single most important thing we want to achieve."