Last year, the Labor Department approved 1,400 petitions covering about 400,000 workers, according to a recent study by the Government Accountability Office, though fewer than 100,000 workers sought and received benefits. The agency denied 800 petitions, mainly because the workers did not produce "an article" and hence fulfill the basic definition of a manufacturing worker. Most of the denials involved two industries, the GAO said: business services such as computer programming and airport-related services such as aircraft maintenance.
The TAA is a grand political compromise that helps make globalization possible. While globalization produces massive net benefits, those benefits tend to be spread across the entire population, while the costs of globalization are typically localized in inefficient industries that suffer as jobs move abroad. Those that lose their jobs have a larger incentive to lobby their congressmen than the vast majority that benefit from lower prices and increased quality; thus, globalization contains the seeds of its own defeat. The TAA helps reduce the cost of economic dislocation, making it easier for the public and politicians alike to "do the right thing" by advancing the cause of globalization. The TAA has typically enjoyed broad bipartisan support, and the current bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT).
Why is this effort from the Democrats problematic then? In the past, TAA has been part of a grand trade deal: Republicans would support TAA and in return Democrats would support free trade deals. But the current Congress doesn't seem as willing to give that quid pro quo. The extension of Trade Promotion Authority (formerly known as Fast Track, TPA means that Congress can only vote up-or-down on trade bills, rather than amending, adding, and subtracting to the deal. Without TPA, it is exceedingly difficult to conclude trade agreements, as other states are loathe to make concessions knowing that Congress may very well undo whatever US concessions are given in return.) is in danger, and Congress has delayed consideration, let alone approval, of the previously signed trade deals with Peru, Panama, Colombia, and South Korea, despite a deal in May to bring the agreements to a vote. Protectionism was a major theme of many of the Democrats who won office in last year's election, and passing TAA in the absence of a commensurate expansion of global trade will only further retard the global and domestic economy.
Hopefully, Senate Republicans will insist that the Democrats acquiesce on trade in exchange for expanding protection for those who suffer from globalization. If they don't, and the growing anti-trend continues, economic promise will grow dim.