- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

The House and Senate sealed a final agreement yesterday to grant President Bush broad powers to negotiate trade agreements.
The deal, which virtually ensures passage of so-called "fast-track" negotiating authority for the first time in nearly a decade, would allow the Bush administration to push forward with a broad set of initiatives, including a free-trade zone for North and South America, new global talks in the World Trade Organization and several bilateral agreements.
The legislation allows the president to negotiate trade agreements and submit them to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments.
A final House vote on the measure, which the Bush administration has dubbed "trade-promotion authority," was expected late last night. Mr. Bush traveled to Capitol Hill yesterday afternoon for a hastily arranged meeting to lobby House Republicans.
"We believe we're going to get [fast track], which will be good for the American people," Mr. Bush told reporters. "Right now, I'm focused on the trade vote."
The House passed its version of the measure in December 215-214, giving the Republican leadership little leeway in securing final approval. The Senate, which traditionally supports free-trade legislation, is likely to send the bill to President Bush for signature next week. It voted 66-30 for its version in May.
Advocates of the legislation predicted that it would strengthen the hand of the Bush administration, which has come under fire on trade policy all year for approving steel tariffs and increased farm subsidies. Fast-track authority expired in 1994, and the Clinton administration failed in two attempts to win it.
"In today's world, where trade is so critical, the president does not have the tools he needs," said Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican, who led the House-Senate talks. "That's like beginning a boxing match with one hand tied behind your back."
Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who led the Senate delegation, said financial instability helped prompt legislators to hash out a deal before the House adjourned for the August recess.
"We need to show we're involved in the world, and that's going to help the economy," he said.
Leading House Democrats, who have opposed the legislation since last year, said the compromise was no better than the bill House members approved in December because it does not include strong provisions on labor and environmental rules in trade agreements, which are backed by organized labor and green groups.
"The underlying legislation remains fatally flawed," said Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat for trade in the House. "It fails to meaningfully address key terms of competition, such as labor and environmental standards."
The agreement, which came after three days of virtually uninterrupted negotiations between the House and Senate, materialized quickly after lawmakers hashed out a compromise on a companion bill that aids workers who lost their jobs as a result of free-trade agreements. Senate Democrats had insisted on a package of so-called "trade adjustment assistance," a program that provides income support and health insurance to displaced workers.
House Republicans largely bowed to Democratic demands. The new assistance program, which would cost about $12 billion over 10 years, extends government support to workers from 52 to 78 weeks. It also provides tax credits that would cover 65 percent of the cost of workers' health insurance.
In return, Democrats abandoned a provision in the Senate-passed version that would have allowed senators a separate vote on parts of trade agreements affecting U.S. laws that permit curbs on imports.
The bill also renews legislation to give several South American countries extra access to the U.S. market as a way of fighting drug trafficking. In addition, it adjusts laws that benefit countries in the Caribbean and Africa.

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