If you thought that the deal on three NAFTA-style trade deals and trade adjustment assistance renewal was set in stone, Mitch McConnell’s pique needs to be priced into that theory:

Congressional leaders yesterday struck a deal with the White House that will reauthorize TAA in return for moving on the pending agreements. But McConnell is so adamantly opposed to helping workers who are harmed by trade that he vowed to vote against a free trade deal that includes a reauthorization of trade assistance:

“I’ve never voted against a trade agreement before — but if the administration were to embed TAA into the Korean trade agreement, I would be compelled to vote against it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters.

The issue here is whether the trade deals and TAA will move as a group, or separately, with TAA embedded only in the Korea deal (the biggest of the lot). If they move separately, McConnell and others would have the freedom to vote against it. But it’s unclear whether McConnell is endorsing a filibuster of that deal, or just that he would not personally support it. The deal would have trouble passing along majority lines without Republican support, however, since there are at least some fair trade Democrats, like Sherrod Brown and Bob Casey, who have already announced their opposition.

Somewhere along the line, Republicans agreed to move these deals, or else I don’t think the White House would have put them out. House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp only called the inclusion of TAA “regrettable,” which is pretty mild. But with labor opposed to the deal, if TAA is enough to flip key Republicans against it, I could see the whole package crashing. The question is whether Obama would sign the Colombia and Panama FTAs without Korea and the TAA that’s embedded to it. They held out this long before announcing a deal, so I’m not sure they would.

Somehow I see the free traders winning out and dragging TAA across the line, but it’s gotten at least a little interesting.

Meanwhile, I’ve yet to see a reporter ask why trade adjustment assistance would be needed if free trade agreements by their very nature increase exports and create jobs.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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