WASHINGTON — The Bush administration appears to be coming up short on votes for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, as the final showdown in the House looms.
With Republicans from states hit hard by international trade joining large blocs of Democrats who oppose the accord's labor provisions, the White House is still looking to swing more votes and the political maneuvering should be intense in the run-up to the House vote this month, possibly as early as next week.
How the textile states vote will be key to the CAFTA battle and members of the House Textile Caucus, comprising some 80 lawmakers, represent a significant voting bloc.
In a survey conducted by WWD, 14 House members from the four largest textile delegations — North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama — said they plan to vote "no" for CAFTA, while eight said they were "leaning no," another seven said they were undecided, two said they plan to vote "yes" and one was leaning "yes." (See voting list, this page.)
As Congress returns this week from a weeklong July 4 recess, one of the fiercest trade battles in a decade looms in the House over CAFTA, which proposes to lower and eliminate tariffs on goods and services flowing between the U.S. and Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
Opposition in the House is deep and wide and it has created a major political headache for the Bush administration, which is trying to find enough votes for the embattled trade accord. Republicans control the House with 231 votes, while Democrats represent 202 votes. There is also one independent and one vacancy.
The Bush administration would need a simple majority of lawmakers who are voting on the floor for passage in the House, but a large contingent of GOP members from textile- and sugar-producing states is opposed to the pact, which has made it difficult for the White House to secure the 218 votes it needs for approval. The administration is hopeful that a compromise from the CAFTA countries on a key pocketing provision could sway some votes.
The President was handed a victory in the Senate, which voted 54-45 to approve the treaty on June 30.
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