- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

The narrow vote in the House to approve broad presidential authority to negotiate new trade agreements marks a victory for President Bush. But it also foreshadows more contentious trade fights in the coming years.

The alliance between the vast majority of Republicans and a small number of Democrats, though it was enough to win the House vote yesterday, may not hold when the Bush administration seeks approval of trade agreements in the future.

"It's the first time it's been done on a heavily partisan basis, and that's a recipe for trouble," said Mac Destler, a scholar of trade legislation at the University of Maryland.

Previous votes in favor of "fast-track" authority, which expired in 1994, were clear victories. In 1988, it passed by a 376-45 margin. In 1991, it won approval 231-192.

In each instance, many more Democrats voted for it than the 21 who did yesterday. The vote was 215-214.

In addition, many House Republicans who have not supported any of the major trade pacts of the 1990s, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, voted for fast-track yesterday out of allegiance to Mr. Bush. Their support, which came this time at the behest of a wartime Republican president, will be uncertain at best in the future.

Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, acknowledged the quandary after the vote.

"The bipartisan consensus is a bit tattered," he said. "But we're going to sew it back together."

But Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, the Virginia Republican who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee, promised partisan warfare against the moderate "new" Democrats. Many of them have said they support free trade but refused to back fast-track because the Republican leadership did not first hold a vote on worker-assistance legislation.

"A lot of these new Democrats are nothing but old Democrats in Republican-leaning districts," he said.

By next year, Congress could be asked to approve free-trade agreements with Chile and Singapore. Around the next presidential election, talks on a free-trade agreement for the Western Hemisphere and a global pact in the World Trade Organization are scheduled to conclude.

For now, U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said the approval in the House, and the promising prospects for success in the Senate, will help drive those negotiations forward.

Mr. Zoellick said fast-track, by forcing an up-or-down vote on trade deals without any changes, increases his bargaining credibility with other countries.

"It will help me at the negotiating table," he said. "Now it is my job to deliver."

But Democrats, bitter about what they saw as a lack of cooperation from Republicans, said other countries should have no confidence that Congress will approve new trade pacts.

"This is the opposite of a blank check," said Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat.

Rep. David Dreier, California Republican, countered that selling the concrete benefits of a trade deal to Congress will be much easier than passing a process-oriented bill like fast-track.

"We'll have enthusiastic support for these wonderful market-opening agreements," he said.

A Democratic takeover of the House also could upset plans for future trade deals that the Bush administration is planning, according to Mr. Destler.

The entire Democratic leadership opposed fast-track, he pointed out.

"Trade agreements are now very vulnerable to party control," he said.

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