CLINTON ASKS FOR FAST TRACK
Byline: Joyce Barrett
WASHINGTON — With scant detail and little apparent backing from Capitol Hill, President Clinton formally asked Congress Wednesday to give the administration authority to pursue new trade pacts.
In an East Room ceremony attended by fewer than a dozen Democratic members of Congress and no Republicans, Clinton said the U.S. should embrace broader trade agreements to capture fast-growing markets in Latin America and Pacific Rim countries for U.S. exports.
Banking on current strength of the U.S. economy to overcome any negative impacts of further opening the U.S. market to imports, the President said, “I know there are heartfelt concerns that expanding jobs and exports and trade could wind up hurting some Americans. That’s why we’re moving to shape the changes we face; change is certain, progress is not. But walking away from this opportunity will not create a single job.”
The administration declined to release details of its request for negotiating authority, called fast track because it requires Congress to approve or reject trade pacts under a strict timetable without amendments. The White House said the plan is being finalized as consultations are held with Senate Democrats. Capitol Hill is expecting to get legislative language early next week. Yet it will be Republicans who will deliver the majority of votes for Clinton’s request for fast-track negotiating authority and none made the trip from Capitol Hill to the White House for Clinton’s announcement.
Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), the former chairman of the Senate Trade Subcommittee who did attend the White House ceremony, said that ongoing roll-call votes in both the House and Senate kept members away. He noted the administration’s ministrations to Senate Democrats were winning fast-track votes.
Rep. Bill Archer (R., Tex.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which will be determining the final shape of any fast-track bill, said in a statement that it would be helpful if the administration speedily forwards its bill to Congress.
“At this late date, every day’s delay complicates the prospects for passing fast-track legislation,” he said.
Many on Capitol Hill charge that fast track authority, which expired three years ago, cedes too much Congressional authority to the administration. Moreover, many Democrats led by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.) are insisting that any fast-track authority should require negotiations on labor standards and environmental protections. Republicans, however, are opposing any suggestion that labor and environment be part of trade negotiations unless they are specifically related to trade issues