Steel Deal Falls Short in Senate

May 21, 2002 ( - The Senate today rejected a bid to tie health benefits for retired steel workers to trade promotion authority legislation.

The amendment, which needed a 60 vote supermajority to survive a filibuster, failed on a vote of 56 to 40, according to Dow Jones.

The amendment, sponsored by Senators John Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), would cover 70% of the cost of health care coverage for individuals who qualified for retiree benefits but lost coverage because of the closure of a steel mill. 

Scaled Back

The proposal was scaled back from earlier efforts to have the government cover unfunded retirement and health insurance benefits for retired steel workers. 

Opponents say the steel amendment would force taxpayers to pick up the tab for benefits that aren’t being met because of industry bankruptcies, such as LTV. The trade authority package includes $12 billion in expanded aid for workers who would lose their jobs because of eased trade barriers.

The steel amendment is one of the final hurdles to passage of trade promotion authority, also called fast track legislation that gives the president the ability to negotiate trade pacts that Congress approves or rejects, but can’t alter. This authority last expired in 1994.

Last fall, the House approved legislation that would renew TPA for five years, but by a narrow 215 to 214 vote.  However, the current Senate proposal, which is expected to pass this week, differs significantly from related bills that have passed the House.  That means a conference to reconcile differences between the proposals will likely be required before the measure becomes law.