Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson tells viewers in a new television ad, "I respect you enough to tell you the truth."
But his Democratic challenger has suggested otherwise.
At a Milwaukee campaign event in May 2016, Russ Feingold said Johnson touted a worker protection program called Trade Adjustment Assistance to justify his support for free trade agreements — even though Johnson had sought to eliminate the program.
Feingold said: "Let's be very clear. Senator Johnson says — to excuse his position on trade agreements — he says, well, we have the TAA. Guess who voted to eliminate it."
When Feingold was asked by reporters to elaborate, he said Johnson voted at least once against providing three-year grants to technical colleges to train displaced workers who were eligible for the program.
Is Feingold right?
How the program works
The Trade Adjustment Assistance program dates to the 1970s and was created to help workers who lost their jobs -- or whose wages or hours have been cut -- because of foreign competition. The program, in part, offers displaced workers temporary benefits and pays to train them with new skills so they can find a new job.
In Wisconsin, the federal government has spent nearly $220 million in the last six years for worker benefits and training, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That includes money for enhanced vocational training through the state’s technical colleges in programs such as information technology, healthcare and manufacturing.
Proponents of the TAA program say it can lessen the blow of job losses that occur when companies move operations overseas to reduce labor costs — a practice that critics contend is facilitated by free trade agreements the United States has struck with other countries.
Feingold’s claim has two parts:
Did Johnson specifically cite the Trade Adjustment Assistance program as a defense of trade agreements?
When we asked Feingold’s campaign for backup, officials pointed to a statement Johnson made in a May 2015 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article: "Free trade does help all economies. And there are dislocations. There are protections against those dislocations. We all support being able to help workers that have been displaced."
Despite what Feingold said, Johnson did not explicitly refer to the TAA in that statement. Rather he voiced general support for helping displaced workers.
Indeed, Johnson campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger told us the TAA is "ineffective and duplicative" and in need of "major reforms."
Johnson’s campaign also pointed to a House Budget Committee report that said the federal government has other forms of aid, including at least 35 job training programs among eight departments and agencies.
There are "dozens of programs to help people who need assistance," Reisinger said.
Did Johnson vote to eliminate the Trade Adjustment Assistance program?
Johnson voted in September 2011 against a bill to reauthorize the program, although the measure passed despite his opposition.
Feingold also noted that Johnson voted at least once against providing three-year grants to technical colleges to train displaced workers eligible for TAA help.
Those grants were part of the 2009 economic stimulus package, which was approved before Johnson was in office. But Johnson voted for legislation in 2011 that would have reduced TAA spending to pre-2009 levels; that proposal also failed.
At the time, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he offered the measure because of concerns with TAA’s effectiveness and because stimulus spending was supposed to be temporary.
Feingold said Johnson had referred to the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to defend his position on trade agreements — but had voted against the TAA.
However, Johnson referred only generally to worker "protections," not to the TAA specifically. He did vote against reauthorizing the program in 2011 and also voted around the same time to pare down funding, which would have had the effect of cutting a career training program.
Our definition for Mostly False is "The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."
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