In the past few months, President Obama has talked about setting up free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. It seems like the White House would like to see these deals happen--it's believed they'd be good for America's economic and foreign-policy health--and there are a lot of congressional Republicans who agree. But this week, the White House made it clear that the free-trade deals aren't going to happen unless the GOP gives some ground on worker benefits.
The issue here is the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, a Department of Labor resource that helps American workers who've lost their jobs due to foreign competition. The TAA provides retraining and financial assistance for workers who need to search for a new job or move to a new city. The program, which has existed for decades, underwent an expansion in 2009 as part of the stimulus package.
That expansion has expired, but the White House, and congressional Democrats, would like to see it get an extension. On Monday, Obama's aides indicated they'd be fine with holding up the free-trade deals until Republicans agree to keep the TAA operating at its 2009-2010 level of spending.