- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday warned the White House that legislation to enhance President Bush's ability to negotiate with foreign trading partners must include health care assistance for workers who lose their jobs because of international deals.
"Let there be no mistake or misunderstanding," the South Dakota Democrat told reporters. "We cannot have trade-promotion authority without trade-adjustment assistance."
The Senate kicks off debate today on trade-promotion authority. Also known as "fast-track," the measure would allow Mr. Bush to cut trade deals and submit them to Congress for approval on an up-or-down vote with no amendments.
Mr. Daschle predicted the Senate, which has a history of supporting free-trade legislation, would approve the bill.
But Senate backers will likely face a long procedural slog possibly lasting most of May before the measure comes to a vote. Democrats and Republicans are still wrangling over trade-adjustment assistance, which would compensate workers who lose their jobs as a result of free-trade agreements.
Meanwhile, fast-track opponents were plotting ways to delay the legislation's progress through the Senate, even as they conceded the bill would pass.
"I think there are a fair number of us who believe that President Bush shouldn't get it," Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, told reporters.
Trade-adjustment assistance, which cost $342 million last fiscal year, provides workers with retraining and cash compensation. Democrats have proposed that it cover their health care as well, and they have made this change the price of passage.
But the two sides have failed to agree how generous this benefit should be. If last-minute negotiations do not resolve the deadlock, Democrats will propose their version of the legislation, Mr. Daschle said.
That outcome could further delay the bill as Republicans try to force through their proposal.
"If there is no deal, we'll spend days on health care," one Senate aide said.
Even after the health care issue is settled, senators will have to sift through dozens of amendments to the fast-track bill, something Republican supporters said they would oppose.
"We're going to fight all amendments," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican.
But Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who heads the Finance Committee, held out the possibility that he would support amendments that do not affect the trade legislation.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said he may offer an amendment that would increase the minimum wage. Democrats have been searching for ways to bring that issue to a vote and to force Republicans to make a difficult choice in an election year.

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