Senate Republicans today said discussions with Democrats over three pending free trade agreements have become so "noxious" that they've decided to block them.
A Senate panel planned to have a hearing today to discuss free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and South Korea -- agreements that have been in the works for years. Republicans support the deals, as does President Obama, but the GOP today blasted Democrats for trying to attach extra spending to the agreements to help workers displaced by free trade.
Republicans are so opposed to the extra spending, they decided to skip today's hearing in order to stall the agreements. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, calling negotiations with the other party "noxious," said that Democrats purposefully scheduled the hearing for this afternoon, when they knew several senators would already be out of town for July 4th.
He called it a "rush job" to jam the agreements through along with the extra spending, so the administration could "appease its political allies."
Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said the free trade agreements should be "slam dunks."
"To leave something like this sitting around for four years that would create jobs... and help us expand and grow the economy, it is inexcusable," he said. The "free trade agreements are being hijacked in order to get spending the administration wants."
President Obama agrees the agreements will help create jobs, but Democrats also want to extend extra spending, first passed in the 2009 stimulus package, for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. Just two days ago, Democrats and Republicans appeared ready to move forward on the agreements. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce commended the progress -- including the extension of the TAA spending.
But today, Republicans complained Mr. Obama has been unwilling to listen to them on this issue, or other issues like the debt limit. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas suggested the president should "" before his next meeting with Republicans.
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona explained that "Republicans have never given much credence to [the] argument" that free trade agreements will hurt workers.
"Some people... will lose a certain type of job and will have to be retrained to get another type of job," he said, acknowledging the need for the dozens of job training programs the government supports. However, he said the TAA spending Democrats are trying to attach to these three agreements are "too expensive" and would duplicate already-existing efforts at job assistance.