Despite such backing, it is unlikely to be smooth sailing for the trade deals. Key Republican leaders are already kicking against coupling the FTAs and TAA while the White House is on record saying the TAA component is imperative. If the preliminary FTA/TAA deal with House Ways and Means chairman Rep. Dave Camp holds, the TAA, set to expire early in 2012, is now expected to be viable through 2013.

During a Tuesday afternoon hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Montana Sen. Max Baucus – who chairs the Senate Finance Committee – told a panel of livestock producers what was at stake with the FTAs.

“My goal (with the Korea FTA) has been to put more pressure on other Asian countries, especially China and Japan,” said Baucus. “That way … they’ll very soon take all ages (of U.S. cattle) and all cuts. That’s a huge opportunity for the American producer.”

The FTAs, Baucus warned the cattlemen, “will pass only if Trade Adjustment Assistance is also passed. They’re all together … it’s all or nothing.

“My judgment is it’s a package worth pursuing. So, I urge all of you when talking to your colleagues, your friends … (to) advise them ‘heck, we’re going to get these FTAs. But part of the deal is TAA as part of it.’

“Then, we can start putting pressure on these other countries. Let me tell you, it was hard getting the extra beef provisions in the Korean (FTA) bill. I ran into a lot of resistance in certain quarters. But we got it.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, White House officials – pushed by President Obama’s National Export Initiative calls for doubling exports by 2014 – tiptoed around just how much ground they’d cede on the labor front if pro-trade Republicans balked at the FTA/TAA coupling.

The White House claimed the compromise deal struck with Camp would:

  • More than double TAA resources for job training while reducing separate programs and increasing the flexibility.
  • Cause the “Health Coverage Tax Credit” to see a drop to 72.5 percent. At the end of 2013, the credit would sunset as the Affordable Care Act comes into effect.

The Obama administration also agreed the plan would be paid for with spending cuts through Unemployment Insurance “program integrity” along with “very small administrative savings” on the Medicare side and a proposal that “seeks to penalize preparers who have bad records on the Earned Income Tax Credit.”

While insisting a commitment to America’s workers through renewal of the TAA in the South Korea trade bill was “a great way to move forward” the officials were unable, or unwilling, to predict how Republicans would react.

In fact, the White House officials said the deal with Camp – described as an “honorable compromise following a tough but constructive negotiation” - was only “on the underlying substance of the agreement.” Camp, it was claimed, “didn’t reach any agreement with us, in any form, on what the process (will be) going forward.”

The officials dodged repeated questions that attempted to draw them out on whether they would move forward with the FTAs without the TAA program extension.