- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2001

House Republicans yesterday began a drive to give President Bush the authority to negotiate big new trade agreements on the strength of their narrow majority in the House, congressional sources said yesterday.
Rep. Philip M. Crane, the Illinois Republican who heads the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee, introduced a bill that would restore the presidents "fast-track" negotiating authority, which expired in 1994 and has not been renewed.
"We must seize this opportunity, by moving my legislation, to re-establish the United States as the global trading power," Mr. Crane said.
Fast-track, which the Bush administration has rebaptized "trade-promotion authority," speeds the pace of trade agreements by letting the president negotiate trade deals and present them to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments.
Mr. Cranes bill would provide fast-track treatment to agreements concluded before June 1, 2005, allowing for an additional two-year period unless Congress passes a resolution opposing extension.
House Republican leaders last week threw their support behind Mr. Crane and urged members in a widely circulated letter to co-sponsor his bill.
The current Republican strategy eschews a big compromise over the fast-track bill in favor of winning over as many Republicans as possible. But Republicans concede they will need at least a few Democrats to win House approval of the legislation, congressional sources said.
"The whip organization and our leadership team is strongly behind this effort, and were determined to see it succeed," said Rep. David Dreier, the California Republican, who heads the Rules Committee.
House Democrats are certain to seek changes to the bill. But the leadership is avoiding early compromise with Democrats, knowing they will have to cut a deal with the Democratic Senate in conference, congressional sources said.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said that Republicans were taking a whip count on fast-track this week, and would decide next week how to proceed.
Still, some Republicans are uneasy with the approach the leadership has chosen.
"We will have to reach out to Democrats," said Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican. "At what point we do that, I dont know."
Mr. Cranes bill has rankled Democrats because it largely excludes labor and environmental rules from any trade agreements that would be subject to fast-track treatment.
"If the House Republican leadership proposal is a first step, it is a step backwards," Reps. Sander M. Levin of Michigan and Charles B. Rangel of New York said in a joint statement. "It is a denial of the changing nature of international trade and the need for bipartisanship."
Despite being in the majority, Republicans will need to win over several Democrats to pass fast-track in the House. Roughly 30 Republicans are virtually guaranteed to oppose fast-track, fearing such a measure would jeopardize American sovereignty and jobs.
Mr. Crane said a bill could be marked up as early as next week. Mr. Kolbe suggested a final House vote could come before the August congressional recess.
Business lobbyists worry that the effort to pass fast-track is descending into partisan bickering, a problem that helped doom similar legislation in 1997 and 1998.
"This is 1998 all over again," said one lobbyist, who asked not to be named.
House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, also criticized the Republican strategy, saying, "Weve been down this road before."
Already, pro-trade Democrats have shown signs that they will balk at any Republican attempts to pass the bill on a partisan basis.
Some Democrats were asked to attend the Tuesday event with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, but refused when Republicans made clear they would push forward with their bill.
The Business Roundtable, the major industry group pushing trade legislation, gave Mr. Cranes bill a tepid endorsement, calling it "an outstanding building block" that could help pass fast-track.

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