Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — The message to President Clinton from Capitol Hill Tuesday on fast track was simple: Enlist Democrats in the effort or lose.
In the strongest warnings issued yet to the White House, House Republicans left no doubt that they could not alone pass the administration’s request for the negotiating authority to pursue free trade agreements.
“I do not today see the votes in the House to pass fast track,” House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R., Ga.) said at a National Press Club luncheon. “I believe the legislation is in very deep trouble.” He faulted Clinton for not “working the issue personally.”
The administration’s fast-track proposal landed on Capitol Hill two weeks ago and has been pilloried since by all but a core group of backers. Republicans charge it would require that labor and environmental standards be part of trade negotiations, something they resolutely oppose. Many Democrats are against it because the labor and environmental links to trade aren’t strong enough.
Fast-track authority and the subsequent trade pacts that will follow are critical to retailers because lowering trade barriers will open new sourcing opportunities and markets for expansion. Textile and apparel makers also stand to gain from additional markets for their exports.
The Senate Finance Committee rejected Clinton’s request for fast track and instead will complete work on its own version today. The Senate’s fast-track plan, crafted by Sen. William Roth Jr. (R., Del.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, strikes labor and environmental protections as negotiating goals.
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, making the rounds before House and Senate committees to offer the case for Clinton’s fast-track request, told reporters that Roth’s proposal included a “number of constructive provisions and approaches.” She said, “We don’t agree with all of the bill, but it is consistent with the administration’s approach.” Barshefsky is negotiating with House Republicans on a different version to be considered in a week by the House Ways and Means Committee.
Business has so far been relatively silent on fast track as it waits to see what the final proposal will be. They were criticized in a morning meeting of the House Trade Subcommittee by Rep. Jim Ramsted (R., Minn.), who said that organized labor is mounting an effective anti-fast-track campaign while “the silence of the business community has been deafening.”
In addition to considering fast track today, the Senate Finance Committee is to complete work on a narrowly drawn bill to expand trade benefits to the Caribbean Basin countries.

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