- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

The White House and its allies in the House yesterday began an uphill battle to win approval of new trade-negotiating authority for President Bush.
With the House scheduled to vote tomorrow, the legislation's backers remain in a hole, about 40 votes short of a majority.
Supporters vowed a furious campaign over the next 48 hours for the bill, which failed to pass the House in 1997 and 1998.
"You will see this week the entire resources of the administration and the leadership … devoted to this cause," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.
But Rep. David Dreier, a prominent free-trade Republican from California, conceded that President Bush, whose involvement is seen as critical to success, has other matters on his plate.
"Obviously, the focus is the war effort," he said.
The bill, known as "fast-track" negotiating authority, would allow the president to cut trade deals and seek congressional approval without amendments.
The authority would be used to create a massive free-trade area with Latin America and to complete new global talks in the World Trade Organization.
As with virtually all trade votes, most House Democrats and a large bloc of Republicans are sure to oppose fast-track. As a result, a winning strategy focuses on wooing undecided members in both parties.
The Senate, a more hospitable body for free-trade legislation, yesterday raised the pressure on the House when the chairman of the Finance Committee promised quick action on the bill if the House approves it.
"If the House approves it, we'll take it up, probably next week," said Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat.
Mr. Armey predicted a close margin of victory: "I don't believe that it's going to be by a lot of whole votes. I think that's a shame, quite frankly," he said at a meeting with editors and reporters at The Washington Times.
He said the measure, which is critical to letting the president open new trade markets, is an important way to combat the current economic downturn.
"He's got to be able to say whatever deal we have is the deal it's going to be or not … . For him to be taken seriously at the table, he needs to be able to give that kind of assurance," Mr. Armey said.
With time short, fast-track backers in the House are trying to corral groups of members who have similar complaints about the trade bill, but might be willing to vote for it.
Rep. Bill Thomas, the California Republican who heads the Ways and Means Committee, said Republicans will hold votes on two bills that undecided Democrats want passed.
One would beef up the U.S. Customs Service to help avoid illegal circumvention of U.S. textile quotas, a long-standing argument of textile-state members. Another would provide cash assistance and retraining to workers who lose their jobs as a result of free-trade deals.
But a major sticking point with Democrats is resentment that their priorities, such as assistance for laid-off airline workers, was not included in the economic-stimulus packages.
In response, Mr. Thomas said he will today outline concessions to Democrats on the stimulus plan.
Mr. Bush yesterday used a flight to Florida on Air Force One to lean on Florida Republicans to back the trade bill, a senior administration official said.
"He's working them hard," the official said.
Mr. Bush has disappointed business groups who support the trade bill by not playing a stronger role in lobbying undecided members before this week.
House members from Florida have repeatedly held back their support for free-trade measures because they believe the North American Free Trade Agreement has harmed the state's farmers, especially citrus producers.
As a result, Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, is demanding that the Bush administration agree to exempt citrus from a planned free-trade agreement with Latin America before he will support fast-track, said spokesman Chris Paulitz.
Late last week, Mr. Bush managed to win over Rep. Larry Combest, the Texas Republican who heads the Agriculture Committee.
Mr. Combest revoked his co-sponsorship of the trade bill in July when the administration refused his plans for billions more than the $25 billion in farm subsidies that the White House wanted.
He said after meeting with Mr. Bush that he had a "personal commitment" from the president that agriculture would "remain the cornerstone of his administration's trade program."
Mr. Bush also lobbied Rep. Charles W. Stenholm of Texas, the top Democrat on the agriculture committee, an administration official said.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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