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ICYMI: Senator Rubio Makes Case For Free Trade On Senate Floor

Sep 26, 2011 | Blog

Washington, DC. – Senator Marco Rubio today highlighted the importance of the free trade agreements and called Rubio Amendment #651 to the floor for immediate consideration. The measure would restore the link between Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and trade agreements that existed prior to the stimulus bill.

Shortly after Senator Rubio announced his amendment the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) said they would supportan amendment like his as it would “protect taxpayers”.


Senator Marco Rubio

U.S. Senate Floor Speech

September 22, 2011

Mr. Rubio: Thank you Mr. President and members.

We’ve had this important conversation this week about trade policy in the United States. It’s a very important one. Clearly, I think one of the great things that will help us grow our economy in the years to come is further free trade. We have these pending free trade agreements, which mostly everyone I run into says they’re in favor of, including the President.

The one with South Korea, the one with Panama, the one with Colombia, there’s been a prerequisite put in place by those in charge here in this chamber and that is that we deal with the TAA issues. And so that’s why we’re on this issue today. They have clearly been linked, the issue of free trade and the issue of this TAA law, so that’s why we’re on that today.

And on that line, let me talk a little bit about the free trade agreements for a minute because we’re continuing to wait for them to be sent down to us. These agreements would increase U.S. exports by billions of dollars and create jobs here in the United States and about, the numbers that are out there, exports are about $12 billion annually, for example. Adding about $14 billion to the U.S. economy.

These are real numbers. The South Korea agreement alone, for example, is estimated could add as many as 70,000 American jobs. As I said earlier, these benefits are not being realized because the President has not yet submitted these for approval to this body or to the Congress.

And so the debate we’re having today is really not a new one. In fact, the Trade Adjustment Agreement, or TAA, has been a policy of the United States, for better or for worse, since the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. Interestingly, this policy was first actually proposed by Senator John F. Kennedy. When he introduced it and aptly titled it the Trade Adjustment Act. In fact, the initial goal was to respond to perceived effects of trade policies. In essence, you enter into a trade policy, like a free trade agreement, with another country. American workers may lose their job in the short term, but you create a fund to help them transition to what you hope will be the new jobs being created by free trade. As you create this new relationship with new countries and new economies, the effect of it, and quite frankly it has been the effect, is that while some jobs may be lost those jobs are replaced with new opportunities and new jobs. And in the process of that transition, between the job you once had and the job you hope to have here in the future as a product of free trade, you create this fund to help workers adjust from point a to point b. That was the purpose of it and has been the purpose of it.

And that’s why it has been included in things like the Trade Act of 1974, and was ushered in with the North America Free Trade Agreement under President Clinton. It was also included in the Trade Act of 2002, the last authorization of the Trade Promotion Authority so vital to promoting the free trade policies in the United States.

So from its very inception, TAA has been linked to free trade. It’s basically an understanding that when you enter into free trade agreements with another country, there are short-term disruptions and you need to have a fund available to help workers transition during that disruption. Very simply put, you have a job, maybe it goes overseas in the free trade agreement. But a new job is created in America as a result of that agreement, and we’re going to help you transition there through this fund. That was always the purpose of it until 2009 when, under the stimulus bill, that was changed and has been vastly expanded. Now basically in order to qualify for it, all you need to prove is that somehow your job or the company you work for has now moved operations potentially overseas.

Look, that’s a big problem in America. It’s a big problem in Florida. You go and you talk to people and they’ll tell you we’re losing our jobs. Other countries are taking our jobs or having jobs going overseas. There are a lot of reasons for that.

The first is unfair trade practices and this body should address that beginning with China, but other nations that unfairly deal with the United States. Whether it’s manipulation of their currency, whether it’s dumping, whether it’s all sorts of things they do in those countries that are unfair. Not to mention that some of these nations have absolutely no environmental regulations, and no protection for their workers or wages. These are incredible amounts of head winds that we face in regard to that, and that should be dealt with seriously through public policy and it is something that we should look at.

But that is not a temporary issue. That is a permanent thing. That is something that’s ingrained and entrenched. And unless we deal with the issues involved with that and those unfair trade practices, no temporary measure like TAA is going to help us with that. We have to deal with that on a permanent basis. That was not the purpose of the TAA. 

The second thing we need to deal with is some of the impediments we’re creating ourselves. That’s why I’m always encouraged when I hear bipartisan talk of tax reform, for example, things that will make it easier for people to build things in the United States and open businesses here. Regulatory reform, let there be no doubt that while there are significant currency manipulation problems and significant trade impediments in terms of unfair trade practices in other countries, some of the wounds are self-inflicted through a regulatory and tax code that makes it difficult for people to do things and do business in the United States. Again, I’m always encouraged when I hear bipartisan talk of both regulatory reform and tax reform because these are the kinds of things that can deal permanently with a permanent and entrenched problem.

But that’s not the purpose of TAA, and especially today as we stand here considering this as a gateway issue where we have been told that the reason why we have to pass this bill first before we can get on the free trade agreements is to clearly link the two. If we’re going to link the two, then we have to make it very clear that this sort of assistance existed and was created for the defined purpose and specific purpose of helping people to transition because of a disruption created in their job status as a result of a free trade agreement. 

So this is a pretty simple amendment. What it does is it basically says this assistance is only available to those workers who lose their jobs to a country that we have a free trade agreement with, because this is designed to deal with the unintended consequences and the disruptions, the short-term disruptions, the temporary disruptions, that might be created by a free trade agreement with another country. So that’s what the amendment does, and I’m hoping to have the support of as many of our colleagues as possible in putting this program back into its historical purpose.

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.