WASHINGTON — The House Republican leadership has threatened the Clinton White House that if they are not included in negotiations on health care reform, they will not work to win votes on the GATT Uruguay Round.
“What little leverage we have, we’ll use,” House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R., Ill.), said Wednesday in an interview. “I guess you could say that GATT could be held hostage.”
Michel said he issued this warning to new White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta at a meeting Tuesday where Panetta outlined for Republican leadership the administration’s plans to pay for GATT — the making up of expected shortfalls in tariff revenues under GATT’s free trade regime.
The degree of Republican support for GATT could mean the difference between GATT being approved by Congress or defeated.
Republican support for the North American Free Trade Agreement was critical in its passage last November, when 132 Republicans voted for it, compared to 102 Democrats favoring it. One House Republican staffer attributed the vast Republican support to the persuasive powers of the GOP leadership, noting that if leadership had not backed it, less than 60 Republicans would have favored the treaty.
Meanwhile, the administration’s GATT funding proposal includes new taxes on ozone-depleting chemicals; a tax on employer-provided parking for workers; a new system for faster voiding of uncashed benefit checks; tax withholding on profits on gambling operations on Indian reservations; and quarterly rather than annual payments of corporate taxes on revenue earned in Puerto Rico and U.S. territories.
Michel further said that if the administration insisted on including the new taxes to raise the estimated $12 billion to make up the lost tariff revenue under GATT, “they will run into a firestorm.” He said, “They have to make more spending cuts.”
Republicans are so opposed to new taxes that House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R., Ga.), has introduced a bill to waive the current budget law so Congress would not have to raise money to pay for GATT.
As for health care, House Democratic leaders currently are trying to meld several versions of health care reform so a bill can be brought to the floor for a vote. They have threatened to prohibit the Republicans from offering a substitute plan, a threat that outrages Republicans.
As one House Republican staffer put it, “If we’re getting kicked in the teeth on health care, why should we help the administration with GATT.”
He said the Republican leadership would likely not take a public position on the worldwide trade agreement and instead let each member “vote his conscience.” He said, “We won’t go out of the way to expedite GATT.”
— Fairchild News Service

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