- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

A bitterly divided House Ways and Means Committee last night approved legislation that would restore the president's powers to conclude new international trade agreements, a major priority of the Bush administration.
But Republicans and Democrats were unable to agree on a bill on "fast-track" authority that would attract strong support from both parties, a sign that the bipartisanship that dominated congressional politics after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is already coming to an end.
On a 26-13 vote, two of the panel's junior Democrats William J. Jefferson of Louisiana and John Tanner of Tennessee voted for legislation that they crafted along with Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican and the committee chairman.
The bill now heads to the House floor, where it faces an uncertain future. Mr. Thomas said that House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, has not yet said when he will schedule a vote on the bill.
"This trade vote will follow the pattern that has been set" in committee, Mr. Thomas said.
The top Democrat on Ways and Means, Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, bitterly criticized Republicans for not working more closely with Democrats.
The bill "was put together with no consultation from any senior Democratic member of the committee or any part of the Democratic leadership," Mr. Rangel said.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who attended last night's markup, offered the Bush administration's support for the bill.
The bill approved yesterday would encourage using trade agreements to persuade other countries not to lower their labor or environmental standards. But Mr. Rangel and Rep. Sander Levin, Michigan Democrat, argued that the bill should include concrete requirements that trade deals be used to force stricter labor standards, such as the right to bargain collectively, on other nations.
The two Democrats offered a substitute bill that failed on a 26-12 vote.
The legislation would allow the president to negotiate new trade agreements and then submit them to Congress for a up-or-down vote without amendments. The power granted to every U.S. president since Gerald R. Ford expired in 1994 and has not been renewed since.
Supporters said yesterday they believe that the bill has a better chance this year than in 1997 and 1998, when it failed by large margins, because more Republicans are ready to rally around President Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Traditionally, a number of Republicans have opposed fast-track on the grounds that trade agreements infringe on U.S. sovereignty.
Business lobbyists said they could get as many as 200 Republican votes in the full House, paving the way for passage with only a handful of Democrats. But Democratic sources strongly disputed that.
For example, one lobbyist said that Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who has long opposed fast-track, was now willing to support the bill.
But his spokesman, Michael Harrison, said Mr. Hunter's position on fast-track had not changed.

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