LOTT: SENATE MAY MULL FAST TRACK NEXT WEEK
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R., Miss.) said Tuesday that the Senate could take up President Clinton’s request for fast-track authority for negotiating trade agreements by the end of next week if other non-related legislative dilemmas are resolved.
By considering fast track first, the Senate could give the House much-needed momentum to muster the votes it needs among Democrats and Republicans for passage. The Senate would not take a vote on the final package, however, until after the House has voted, Lott said. Lott and Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D., S.D.) predict there are enough votes for passage in the Senate.
Opponents of the plan, which gives Clinton the OK to pursue additional free trade agreements without fear that Congress can amend them when they are sent to Capitol Hill for approval, are expected to filibuster, which could slow Senate consideration. Lott predicted that the 60 votes to stop a filibuster could be attained, but Daschle was not as optimistic.
Daschle and other Democrats are withholding their support of fast track in part because they are seeking agreement with Republicans on when a campaign finance reform plan would be considered. An effort this month to tackle campaign financing failed in the Senate. Other legislative issues pending are a mammoth transportation funding bill, which includes coveted funding for roads and bridges, and other appropriations measures.
John Breaux (D., La.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee and a backer of fast track, predicted that enough votes could be found to stop a filibuster.
Lott and Daschle met separately Tuesday morning with Clinton to discuss the remaining items on the congressional agenda. Both said the President made a pitch for fast track. Congress is aiming to adjourn for the year by Nov. 8.
“Fast track is on a higher plane than campaign financing reform,” Lott said. “I’ve been asked by the President to bring it up, and I told him I would.”
Meanwhile, business backers of fast track, including the National Retail Federation, met with a group of House Democrats and Republicans Tuesday to build support. Fast-track advocates estimate they have rounded up almost 30 votes among House Democrats for the authority and could ultimately attain the backing of almost 60 Democrats. House Republicans have said they need significantly more than 40 Democrat backers to persuade GOP leadership to bring it up for a vote.