The GOP’s deal breaker on trade deals

For all of their many areas of disagreement, there appears to be some areas of common ground in D.C. when it comes to trade. Republicans want to approve new trade deals with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama, and the Obama administration sees this as an area where policymakers might be able to improve the economy.

This week, agreement on how to structure these trade agreements appeared to be coming together. That is, until yesterday.

Senate Republicans boycotted a preliminary hearing Thursday on free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, instead staging a simultaneous press conference and bringing the stop-and-go process to yet another halt.

In an upside-down pair of performances, Democratic senators filled half a hearing room to declare their support for trade deals opposed by much of their party’s political base, while Republican senators stood before television cameras to declare that they would not allow a hearing on legislation that much of their own base strongly supports.

Senator Orrin Hatch, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, said Republicans were responding to a decision by the White House to include in the free trade legislation the expansion of a benefits program for workers who lose jobs to foreign competition.

There’s something oddly perfect about this. Republicans have demanded for months that the Senate move forward on these three trade deals, and the Democratic majority now agrees. But GOP members are now blocking the agreements they sought, because Dems want to look out for those American workers most likely to suffer if the trade deals go through.

Indeed, Orrin Hatch said Republicans “would not stomach” Democratic efforts to help these displaced Americans, and to prove the point, threw a little tantrum yesterday.

Remember, for months, Hatch and his cohorts have been incensed by delays in approving these trade deals. And as of yesterday, Hatch and his cohorts are deliberately delaying approval of these trade deals.

It prompted Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to once again raise the specter of Republicans undermining the economy on purpose: “They want the country to be in as bad shape as possible, because that might help them electorally…. All of a sudden it’s sort of like a new fever has taken over the other side, that the best way to win is to hurt the country as much as you can, and that will create political benefit.”