- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2002

The Senate yesterday turned back the last significant challenges to a bill that would give President Bush the power to negotiate major new trade agreements, clearing the way for final passage in the next few days.
By significant margins, senators rejected amendments that would have provided pension and health care benefits to retired steelworkers whose companies have gone bankrupt.
The Senate also turned back a proposal by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, to change the way the United States negotiates foreign-investment agreements.
"I see this as the last crippling amendment," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who joined Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, to shepherd the bill through the Senate.
The underlying legislation would provide Mr. Bush with "fast-track" trade-negotiating authority. Fast-track allows the president to made trade deals and submit them to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments.
The Bush administration has said it wants to use the authority to negotiate a whole range of global, regional and bilateral agreements.
In addition to fast-track, the Senate legislation includes a renewal of a federal program that provides income support and retraining to people who lose their jobs as a result of free-trade agreements. The bill would also extend a program to provide duty-free access to the American market for some products from Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador.
Senators began their work yesterday by rejecting an amendment sponsored by Democratic Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland that would have spent about $180 million to assist retired steelworkers. At least 125,000 steelworkers lost their health insurance when their employers went bankrupt.
After looking like they would lose late last week, the Bush administration and a group of Republican senators rallied to beat back the amendment. By a vote of 56-40, senators declined to end debate on the measure, effectively killing it.
Mr. Kerry sought to have the Senate restrict "investor-state" arbitration tribunals that allow companies to sue governments for money damages. One such procedure in the North American Free Trade Agreement has resulted in several major lawsuits against the United States. But senators defeated that amendment 56-40.
Supporters of the fast-track legislation had a brief scare when the Senate was on the verge of approving an amendment, sponsored by Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, to provide low-interest mortgage loans to unemployed workers.
But Vice President Richard B. Cheney was whisked into the Senate chamber at the last minute to break a 49-49 tie, and send Mr. Allen's amendment down to defeat.
"It was very disappointing. but if you're going to go down, it's better to make them work for it," Mr. Allen said.
Audrey Hudson contributed to this report.


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