Democratic power struggle keeps $500 million worker relief in limbo: Report
Democratic power struggle keeps $500 million worker relief in limbo: ReportRyan King
March 30, 02:20 PM March 30, 02:20 PM
A squabble between two top Senate Democrats over a legislative technicality in a bill passed last year is stymieing millions of dollars in relief for workers whose jobs were shipped overseas.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) and Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) are at odds over whether $500 million in bolstered funding for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program is allowed to be spent, which Murray insists expired and has not been reauthorized despite funding being allocated for it in a bill last year.
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“The appropriations bill that passed at the end of the year said the program ended, that’s the way it was written,” Murray said, per Politico.
TAA is a Labor Department initiative that funds relief measures such as job training, income assistance, and more for workers who lost their jobs due to outsourcing. The $500 million allocated for the program was buried in the spending omnibus bill that cleared Congress late last year. TAA was not expressly reauthorized in that bill and expired earlier this year.
Murray backs the program but is concerned that it has not been reauthorized. Lawmakers finagled the $500 million TAA funding into the spending bill last year with the intent of cutting a deal between the two parties to extend it, sources told Politico. However, in the scramble to move the spending bill, the reauthorization of TAA never came to pass.
Republicans sought to pair extending TAA with a commitment from the Biden administration to commence new trade negotiations overseas, but the administration was noncommittal, according to the report.
The Washington senator reportedly contacted the Labor Department to express her concerns that TAA has not been reauthorized and demand the department refrain from combing through TAA applications. Her office has insisted that she is not blocking TAA, rather Republican opposition has foiled it.
Wyden, whose committee supervises TAA, reached a different interpretation of TAA’s status and contends that the appropriation of funding is sufficient for it to restart applications again, per the report.
“I believe the omnibus extended TAA for a year,” Wyden countered, per Politico. “The text of the law is clear. … The Biden administration should use that authority to deliver workers the benefits they are owed.”
His allies have reportedly noted that other federal agencies have sometimes disbursed funds for programs without explicit reauthorization in the past. They’ve also highlighted the Government Accountability Office’s guidance that stipulates Congress “appropriates huge sums each year to fund programs with expired authorizations.”
Should the impasse continue, TAA will likely phase out roughly 7,000 of the remaining individuals in the program. Republicans appear adamant that reauthorization should coincide with renewed trade negotiations. Labor unions such as the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers have bristled at the gridlock over TAA.
The tiff comes before a looming budget showdown between Republicans and Democrats amid debt ceiling negotiations. The $31.4 trillion limit on the nation’s borrowing authority was reached earlier this year and the Treasury Department’s “extraordinary” measures to prolong funding are projected to run out sometime in June.