Byline: Joanna Ramey

WASHINGTON — The battle in Congress over granting the President trade promotion authority got even more heated Monday when a North Carolina senator said he would tie his vote on the issue to more help for the domestic textile industry.
Democrat John Edwards said in a news conference in Raleigh, N.C., that he wants more direct federal aid for unemployed textile workers and tax credits for communities affected by the textile industry’s downturn. Without such help, Edwards said he would vote against granting the President TPA.
“What I do is dependent on what we can do for people in North Carolina,” Edwards told reporters.
Such deal making was the hallmark of the House vote on TPA last December. The bill squeaked by on a 215-214 vote thanks to last-minute pledges to help beleaguered mills exacted by Republican textile-state lawmakers from the Bush administration and GOP House leaders.
The TPA bill, strongly backed by retailers and other apparel and textile importers, has been stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The measure would mean that trade pacts negotiated by the administration can’t be changed by Congress, which Bush has said is key to completing the Free Trade Area of the Americas and other agreements.
However, TPA, which expired during the Clinton administration, has become a symbol of scorn by the declining textile industry, including in North Carolina.
Edwards, often cited as a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2004, plans to introduce legislation that would make unemployment and job training benefits immediately available to textile and apparel workers who lose their jobs because of import competition. Now, all workers must wait 90 days. Another bill would provide tax credits to mill towns to help attract new industries.
Edwards also plans to pressure the administration to increase access to foreign markets for these U.S. goods.
Steve Lamar, vice president of the American Apparel & Footwear Association, said despite Edwards’ proclamations, he expects TPA to pass the Senate, where the Finance Committee voted out the bill on a strong 18-3 vote.
“There are a lot of industries in North Carolina that are very dependent on trade, so I can imagine [Edwards] will be listening to them, too,” Lamar said.
Patricia Campos, lobbyist for UNITE, said Edwards’ deal making, as in the House, shows that “textiles have become such a central part in negotiations of [TPA] in the Senate.”

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