Thursday, November 29, 2001

The House leadership is taking on an uphill battle to win House approval of legislation that would allow the president to negotiate big trade agreements during the next three years.
With plans for a vote one week from today, supporters of the bill are dozens of votes short of a majority and believe that only the direct involvement of President Bush can salvage a victory.
Mr. Bush yesterday urged business groups to help pass the bill, which faces tough opposition from Republicans and Democrats.
“This authority sends an unmistakable signal to our trading partners that the Congress and the administration are united on trade,” he said in a speech to the Farm Journal Conference in Washington.
The bill for “fast-track” negotiating authority would allow the president to make trade deals and submit them to Congress for an up-or-down vote in which no amendments are allowed.
If passed, it would pave the way for approval of free-trade agreements with Latin America and Singapore, and a new round of negotiations in the World Trade Organization.
Fast-track expired in 1994, and Mr. Bush has said repeatedly that it is a priority. But a vote in the House, where the Constitution requires that trade legislation originate, failed in 1997 and 1998, and has been put off repeatedly this year for lack of support.
Most Democrats oppose fast-track without strong rules on labor and environmental matters. They have struck an alliance with a large group of Republicans who believe that trade agreements infringe on American sovereignty, making passage in the House nearly impossible.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Democrat, promised that next Thursday’s vote would not be postponed.
“The votes are moving our way,” he said. “We feel very confident about it.”
But business lobbyists privately paint a more pessimistic picture, noting that Mr. Bush’s intervention with individual House members will be crucial to winning a majority. The lack of presidential involvement thus far has left fast-track opponents spoiling for a showdown they believe they can win.
“They’re going for a hail-Mary pass here,” said Bill Samuel, the top lobbyist for the AFL-CIO, which strongly opposes fast-track. “They have a week to get the votes that they cannot get.”
Mr. Bush, if he wades deeply into the fight, also will face members who want to trade their votes on fast-track for concessions on unrelated issues, especially the pending economic-stimulus package, congressional sources said.
Passage in the Senate has been seen as secure, setting up the House as the major battleground for the bill. Supporters say they are about 50 votes short of a win, and conceded that victory will come at the last minute, if at all.
“We’re running a two-minute drill, and we’re trying to get across the goal line,” said Rep. Jim Ramstad, Minnesota Republican.
The White House has not ruled out a deal with Democrats and has been sounding out Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, hoping he would lead other Democrats to support a compromise bill, a senior administration official said.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide