Capitol Hill Democrats are leading a push to strip President Bush of his power to "fast-track" international trade deals, a move the administration says will undermine U.S. trade policy and cause the nation to lose pace in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
The special "trade-promotion authority," or TPA, given to Mr. Bush in 2002 is set to expire Saturday, and the Democrat-controlled Congress, which has been critical of the president's trade policies, has ignored a White House request to extend it.
"There just is no momentum for this in Congress," said a senior Senate Democratic aide. "There isn't even a Republican bill in the Senate to extend TPA."
The TPA allows the White House to broker international trade agreements that are sent to Congress for a straight "up or down vote" with no amendments allowed.
The administration says extending TPA is vital because countries are more willing to negotiate trade deals directly with the White House knowing that any agreement won't be subjected to later changes by Congress.
Trade proponents say fast-tract authority is necessary if the U.S. is to revitalize the stalled Doha round of the World Trade Organization's trade talks with the European Union, India, Brazil, Australia and Japan. They add that canceling TPA gives participants little incentive to negotiate in earnest.
TPA "is a power that every president should have, and the Democratic leadership in Congress should have the wisdom to see that," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "You cannot say you support trade without supporting trade-promotion authority."
Democratic leaders say they would be willing to extend the president's fast-track authority, but only if future trade deals included provisions for the creation of domestic jobs and offer more protections for U.S. workers and businesses through trade enforcement, congressional consultation, and labor and environmental regulations.
"Trade-negotiating authority is a valuable tool for the administration, but it requires a great deal of trust, and Congress must have some key assurances before it is willing to extend this leverage," House Ways and Means Chairman Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, said earlier this year.
"Congress must be an active partner in trade negotiations to ensure we are truly crafting trade agreements in the best interest of the American people."
A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Mrs. Pelosi also has no desire to extend TPA unless the president first makes more domestic "investments in education, innovation and health care."
"We must work to expand the benefits of globalization to all Americans," Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly said.
The administration says it's willing to talk with Democrats on the matter, but that the president's ability to negotiate trade deals directly and without interference from Congress must not be compromised.
"U.S. farmers, ranchers, businesses and service providers don't need to be sidelined," said Gretchen Hamel, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Trade Representative's office. "We need TPA, so the U.S. can be actively engaged in the global marketplace."
The U.S. Trade office says it will continue to press the issue with Mr. Rangel, who as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee would be responsible for drafting any legislation to extend the president's fast-track authority.
"TPA remains one of our primary concerns," Ms. Hamel said. "We haven't given up on getting an extension."
But House Ways and Means spokesman Matthew Beck says the administration "has not been brought up the issue" recently, and that the committee has no plans to move on granting an extension.
A senior Senate Democratic aide added the administration has done little to make its case heard on Capitol Hill.
"They're not pushing this at all — not in a way you would consider 'pushing,' " the aide said. " 'Pushing it' means shoe leather and phones calls, and we're just not getting that from them on this."