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Published May 30, 2011, 03:20 PM

Baucus stresses importance of adjustment assistance for American workers in trade deals

WASHINGTON — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., told a meat export group May 25 that the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia must be passed together with trade adjustment assistance for American workers and also said the 2012 farm bill must contain the permanent disaster program known as SURE that he authored in the 2008 farm bill.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., told a meat export group May 25 that the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia must be passed together with trade adjustment assistance for American workers and also said the 2012 farm bill must contain the permanent disaster program known as SURE that he authored in the 2008 farm bill.

“U.S. farm exports are booming . . . but competitors are gaining ground,” Baucus told the U.S. Meat Export Federation, a Denver-based U.S. promotion group meeting in Washington.

“I will not rest until the agreements are approved,” Baucus said. “The free trade agreements will not move unless we can agree on a robust, long-term trade adjustment assistance program,” he added, noting that the two go together “like a horse and carriage.”

One package deal

In an interview after the speech, Baucus said that people who want the free trade agreement to pass must understand that “the free trade agreements and trade adjustment assistance are one package.” Baucus added that all the details of the agreements and trade adjustment assistance are not finalized, but that they are moving forward. If one gets bogged down, it could endanger the whole package, he said.

Scott Shearer, an agricultural lobbyist who attended the conference, said most farm and business lobbyists understand that trade adjustment assistance must be passed to secure the trade agreements.

Noting his long relationship with the U.S. Meat Export Federation promoting meat exports going back to the 1970s, Baucus thanked the group for its support of his quest to push South Korea to allow more U.S. meat imports.

“There were other organizations that were satisfied with the status quo,” he said.

Farm bill work

Moving to the farm bill, Baucus, who also sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, noted there has been speculation that the Senate might pass a farm bill first and said that since many House members are inexperienced and not supporters of farm programs, “it might make sense to start in the Senate.”

One of the biggest difficulties is that the 2008 farm bill contains 37 programs costing $9 billion that will expire, he said. That includes the permanent farm disaster program that Baucus helped write.

But with the volatile weather the nation has been experiencing, “the disaster package in the next farm bill will be vital,” Baucus said.

Congress must make sure that the government can continue to pay interest on its debt after Aug. 2, he said.

“Never in the history of the United States has the government defaulted,” he said, adding that a default would cause interest rates to rise dramatically and make it hard or impossible to get loans.

Budget talks

Of the general budget debate, Baucus said, the budget should not be balanced on “seniors, people living in poverty and those who live in rural America.”

Agriculture Department funding, he noted, “has been in the crosshairs.”

A farm bill with disproportionate cuts is “something I won’t stand for,” he said, adding that that the farm bill “will have to do more with less.”

Noting that he is working with Vice President Joe Biden and other lawmakers on a budget proposal, Baucus said, “I am the only one in the room with an understanding of rural America.”

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