A feud over trade has erupted in Washington, and American workers are caught in the middle. Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats) are threatening to hold up approval of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama if President Obama keeps insisting on renewing expanded benefits under Trade Adjustment Assistance, the main aid program for American workers harmed by foreign trade.
Supporters say the program — which offers retraining, relocation and other benefits to workers who lose their jobs due to competition from imports — offers vital protection. Opponents label it an unaffordable boondoggle. If our country fails to resolve this dispute, our economic future will be bleak.
As former advisers to presidents from different parties, we are coming together to urge a way out: rethinking how we help displaced workers in order to revive political support for the free trade our economy needs.
Three principles guide our proposal. First, trade is indeed worth it for America. Annual national income today is at least $1 trillion higher than it would have been absent decades of trade and investment liberalization. With unemployment at 9.1 percent and 24.6 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, we need to rebalance our economy away from the excessive consumption that helped bring about the global financial crisis, and create jobs linked to exports and international investment.