HOUSE VOTE GIVES BUSH TRADE POWER
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — In a cliffhanger victory for the GOP leadership that leaned heavily on apparel and textile state lawmakers for votes, the House voted 215-214 Thursday to extend trade promotion authority to President Bush.
One of the last three “yes” votes cast, pushing the tally in favor of the bill, was by Rep. Cass Ballenger (R., N.C.), who had been undecided in the days of intense lobbying leading up to the vote. Ballenger was among several GOP members from textile-and-apparel-producing states who held out their votes over concern for the impact on constituents of future trade agreements negotiated under TPA.
An agreement reached just hours before the vote apparently helped to tilt Ballenger into the “yes” column. Ballenger and other Textile Caucus members received assurances that legislation would be introduced that would require U.S. textiles to be dyed, finished and printed in the U.S., if used in Caribbean Basin-made apparel receiving duty-free treatment.
This would be a correction to the Caribbean trade bill approved last year. The issue has been a heated one between free-trade-minded lawmakers and House and Senate textile-and-apparel state members, who argue that absent the change, tens of thousands of jobs would be lost.
A spokesman for Ballenger said that in addition to the dying, printing and finishing assurances, the congressman “thought it was important to support the President, particularly in a time when we are engaged militarily abroad.”
TPA means that trade agreements can’t be amended by Congress. Administration officials claim that trading partners are reluctant to negotiate without such assurances and the President’s ambitious trade agenda will stall without it. The authority expired seven years ago.
The House TPA vote garnered 21 Democrats in favor of the measure and 23 GOP members opposing it, otherwise falling along party lines in the Republican-controlled chamber. Debate largely focused on whether pacts should set labor and environmental standards. These issues are expected to be revisited in the Democrat-controlled Senate next year.