- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2002

The White House and the Senate yesterday hammered out an deal that will allow a vote this month on legislation handing President Bush the power to negotiate new trade agreements and submit them to Congress for quick approval.
"An agreement has been reached that includes the administration, Republicans and Democrats," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, announced.
Yesterday's agreement broke a partisan deadlock on a companion bill to aid displaced workers.
Republicans largely bowed to Democratic demands on that bill's health care provisions. In return, Democrats abandoned their push to have the federal government assume the pension and health care costs of steel-industry retirees whose companies have gone bankrupt.
"All parties have made some concessions here," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican.
The agreement clears the way for Senate debate on, and likely passage of, the biggest package of trade legislation in years. Business groups, jittery after Mr. Daschle threatened to kill the bill earlier this week, were relieved.
"The compromise on the comprehensive trade package is a profile of perseverance and bipartisan leadership," said John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable.
The bill's main component is "fast-track" negotiating authority, which allows the president to bring trade agreements he reaches with other countries to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments. The Bush administration, eager to create a free-trade zone for all of the Western Hemisphere and pursue negotiations in the World Trade Organization, has made winning the power a major legislative priority.
But it includes a $12 billion, 10-year extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance, which aids workers who lose their jobs as a result of free-trade pacts. Democrats pressed for, and ultimately won, a new tax credit that will pay for 70 percent of their health insurance under the federal Cobra law.
Federal assistance to steelworkers proved beyond the Democrats' reach, as influential Republicans such as Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas refused to budge. The proposal, which would cost about $400 million, now seems sure to come up as an amendment when the Senate debates the trade legislation next week.
"I'm disappointed that we couldn't do more, but I'm also appreciative of the fact that we've got to move on," said Mr. Daschle, who added that he would support the steelworkers amendment.
The trade package includes an extension of a program that grants duty-free access to products from Andean nations including Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. The program, which aims to prevent narcotics production by expanding trade, has expired, and exporters will have to begin paying duties May 16 without new legislation.
Republicans yesterday sought to separate the Andean bill from the rest of the trade package and pass it before the deadline, but Democrats blocked the move.
"It's in the U.S. national interest not to see these countries degenerate into economic, political and, in the case of Colombia, armed chaos," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.


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