CONGRESSIONAL INSIDERS SEE LITTLE HOPE FOR FAST-TRACK
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON — The fate of fast-track negotiating authority for trade pacts dimmed Monday as Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.), while promising to take up the matter next week on his side of the Capitol, predicted it would not make it to a House vote this year.
Backers of fast-track in the House also were pessimistic, with a chief House trade staffer lamenting that there was no momentum for either side in the intense debate over fast-track.
“I don’t think it will pass this fall,” predicted the aide, who has until recently been optimistic about fast-track’s chances.
House Democrats have so far enlisted fewer than 30 fast-track backers, and Republicans are insisting that Democrats come up with at least 70. The administration is seeking an extension of fast-track negotiating authority because trade pacts negotiated under the authority cannot be amended by Congress, but can only be approved or denied under a strict timetable.
Lott has tentatively scheduled Senate consideration of fast-track with the aim of giving the House momentum.
“Unless something dramatic happens, I don’t see the House moving on fast- track,” Lott told reporters Monday. Lott predicted, though, that enough Senate votes could be mustered to defeat an expected filibuster.
In a last-ditch attempt to sway Democrats leery of opposing organized labor and backing fast-track, President Clinton has tapped United Nations Secretary Bill Richardson, a House member for 14 years, to find fast-track backers among Democrats. Richardson has made an international reputation for himself by negotiating successes in circumstances deemed irredeemable.
“If anybody can change the dynamics of this, Richardson can,” the House aide said. “He understands the real pressures of members and can offer to offset their problems. He also has credibility with the Democrats.”