Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — House Republicans agreed Wednesday to set a vote for late next week on the proposal that would give the administration fast-track authority in negotiating trade pacts.
The Republican leadership agreed to schedule the vote at the request of Democrats who say that without a firm date, they can’t pin down support for the proposal. However, there were still misgivings that Republicans and Democrats would fail to muster enough House support. As one Republican trade aide said, it is a game of Russian roulette, because many would view failure as a major international embarrassment to the Clinton White House.
The vote could come in the closing hours of this Congressional session, since Congress has targeted Nov. 7 as its adjournment date.
The administration has said it needs fast-track because pacts negotiated under it cannot be amended by Congress but only approved or denied, and trading partners need this assurance when making concessions on opening their markets. Democrats are reluctant to support President Clinton’s fast-track request because they want tougher labor and environmental provisos.
U.S. business, which stands to gain from more open markets, is pressuring Congress to approve fast-track. A letter signed by 40 chief executive officers — including Linda Wachner of The Warnaco Group; John Bryan, Sara Lee Corp.; Walter Elisha, Springs Industries, and John Krol, DuPont — said that without fast track, the U.S. risks “being left behind as our trading partners and competitors open up trade and investment.” The letter was sent Tuesday to Clinton and House and Senate leaders.
The Senate, where fast-track support is seen strong enough for passage, is set to take up its bill early next week, but under Congressional rules, the Senate cannot vote before the House on trade matters.

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