- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee yesterday put the finishing touches on legislation to give President Bush the authority to strike new trade agreements.
The bill, which the panel plans to approve today, closely tracks legislation that the House narrowly passed last week. Its similarity to the House bill will likely speed its final approval sometime early next year.
Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who heads the finance panel, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the committee, laid aside partisan wrangling over a planned economic-stimulus package and hammered out a compromise bill over the weekend.
"There was considerable value in restoring a greater degree of bipartisanship to both the activities of the Finance Committee and to trade policymaking more generally," Mr. Baucus and Mr. Grassley said in a joint statement.
The bill, known as "fast track," would let the president negotiate new trade deals and then submit them to Congress for an expedited, up-or-down vote. No amendments would be allowed.
The authority, which most presidents have had since the 1970s but which expired in 1994, would allow U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick to move forward on negotiations for a huge free-trade pact with Latin America, and to enter into negotiations on a World Trade Organization agreement early next year.
The House approved fast-track legislation of its own last Thursday on a 215-214 vote that succeeded only when the House leadership, and Mr. Bush, put enormous pressure on its Republicans to support it.
As a result, Mr. Baucus and Mr. Grassley drafted a bill that resembles the one from the House, and would minimize the chances for a radically different proposal that the House might balk at, Senate aides said.
Like the House bill, it would provide fast-track authority to the president for five years, based on his willingness to consult closely with members of Congress as trade agreements are being negotiated. Senators also agreed to create a new congressional oversight body for trade policy.
Senators added a few minor changes to the bill to require closer attention by U.S. negotiators to the WTO system for resolving disputes. It also requires that the president make several reports to Congress on labor rights and on potential changes to American trade laws.
Despite the fact that senators did not draft their own bill from scratch, senators said it would move swiftly out of committee today. Mr. Grassley said he and Mr. Baucus would be able to "ward off" amendments.
"It's going to pass overwhelmingly," said Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican on the finance panel.
Hopes for a quick vote by the full Senate have faded, however, even though the Senate has traditionally showed much stronger support for fast-track than the House.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said yesterday that he will not bring it up by the end of the year, but said there was "every intention" of holding a full Senate vote early next year.
"There's a lot of need to think carefully about what fast-track means," he said. "This a very important, long-lasting piece of legislation."
Mr. Daschle has voted for fast-track in the past.
But the delay frustrated Republicans, who have repeatedly argued that Mr. Daschle's political maneuvering has created a backlog of legislation that would help jump-start the economy.
"The Senate has become a black hole of inactivity," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "We should move immediately to the trade bill."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide