- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Organized labor is trying to build alliances with Republicans in anticipation of a battle this summer over whether to grant President Bush the power to strike new trade deals.

Unions fear that with a Republican in the White House, their potential Republican allies will be on the hot seat, as in the case of the tax bill, to approve trade-negotiating authority, which labor opposes.

"With a Republican White House, the president will be able to put much more pressure on Republicans," said Bill Samuel, director of legislative affairs for the AFL-CIO labor federation. "So we're paying attention to them."

Major industrial unions, such as the United Auto Workers, also are gearing up their campaigns against the trade bill, with a particular focus on Republicans.

"There's no question that the unions are talking more to the labor-district Republicans," said Rep. Jim Ramstad, Minnesota Republican and ardent free-trade supporter.

The politics of trade, observers said, give labor a good chance of scuttling the administration's planned campaign to win "fast-track" negotiating authority, legislation Mr. Bush has deemed a top priority for passage by the end of the year.

Fast-track, which the Bush administration is calling "trade-promotion authority," allows the president to cut a trade deal and submit it to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments.

The administration, consistent with past votes on trade issues in Congress, is anticipating a hard-fought battle for each undecided member.

"Trade is very much a one-vote-at-a-time proposition," Nicholas Calio, the White House legislative liaison, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Monday.

Free-trade coalitions, especially in the House, are traditionally built around a group of about two-thirds of the Republican conference and enough Democrats to reach a majority.

When the Clinton administration unsuccessfully sought fast-track authority in 1997, labor's focus was on persuading Democrats, their traditional allies, to resist presidential pressure to vote for the bill.

This year, the politics of trade are making labor unusually dependent on Republicans to fight off fast-track. Unions fear that the "loyalty factor" toward a Republican White House will lead many Republican members to vote for fast-track, making labor's efforts to win the loyalty of Democrats a moot issue.

Republicans such as House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas have urged Mr. Bush to win over as many Republicans as possible rather than relying on Democratic votes.

"There's a different dynamic at work this time around," said a congressional source who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "And labor's not stupid. They're checking in with Republicans."

Some Republicans, such as Rep. Jack Quinn, New York Republican, are sticking with labor despite the presence of a Republican president.

"Just because there is a Republican in the White House does not mean I'm going to change my vote," Mr. Quinn said. "Where I come from near Buffalo, trade has been all about job losses."

So far, Republican opponents of fast-track, who number between 30 and 40, are holding together, but Mr. Quinn conceded that the White House could bring enormous pressure to bear on them.

"We haven't seen any Republican walk away from our position yet," the AFL-CIO's Mr. Samuel said.

Mr. Quinn and Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, New Jersey Republican, already have close links to labor. They head a Republican working group on labor that meets periodically on issues that unions care about, such as the minimum wage and ergonomics standards.

They hosted a meeting two weeks ago with AFL-CIO President John Sweeney that included more than 30 Republican members, Mr. Quinn said.

Fast-track did not come up at that meeting, but Mr. Quinn said he expects it will become a hot issue for pro-labor Republicans.

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