Congress extends trade assistance for 6 weeks

Congress on Wednesday passed a temporary trade bill that extends, for six weeks, assistance to workers who were laid off due to cheap imports and jobs that moved abroad.

The House and Senate approved the legislation by voice vote and sent it to the president. Sponsors said they would work on a longer extension next year. The programs would have expired at the end of this year.

While the bill would continue health care assistance and retraining for workers laid off due to international trade, the Senate dropped provisions for lower import duties on nearly 300 products used by U.S. manufacturers. Some senators objected to tariff provisions related to products made in their states, according to Senate aides who were not authorized to be quoted by name.

Community colleges and other educational institutions are expected to play a key role in the plan by developing retraining programs.

The bill also gives a six-week extension for Andean countries as an alternative to drug production and trafficking. The 1991 program originally applied to Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Bolivia was excluded in 2008 due to poor anti-narcotics efforts.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, "These trade programs are absolutely critical for our economy and for jobs ... across the country. Trade Adjustment Assistance provides job training and opportunities for workers here at home, training that is more important than ever in these difficult economic times."

He said the Andean trade pact "supports U.S. jobs while sustaining economic growth and employment across the U.S. and the globe and is especially urgent for Colombia, where massive flooding has affected 2 million people and caused the worst natural disaster in the nation's history. These short-term extensions are an important step forward as we fight for longer extensions of these and other trade programs to strengthen our economic recovery and create jobs, both at home and abroad."