GOP PUSHES FOR TRADE BILL VOTE
Byline: Joanna Ramey
WASHINGTON — House Republican leadership and the White House are angling for a House vote on trade-promotion authority before Congress takes its August break, but the measure — a key part of President Bush’s trade agenda — doesn’t yet have enough votes for passage.
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.), said Thursday he and other GOP leaders are “working on it” and seemed unwavering in his attempt to push the bill to a vote before the end of the month.
“Trade-promotion authority is so important,” Hastert told reporters, while acknowledging the difficulty in reissuing the authority, which expired in 1993 during former President Clinton’s first term.
In 1997, during the last attempt to secure approval, GOP leadership took the unusual step of pulling the bill from the House floor in mid-debate because of a lack of votes. Bills typically aren’t brought to the floor unless they’re assured of passage.
Granting trade-promotion authority would mean Congress couldn’t amend trade pacts negotiated by the president, but only vote to approve or disapprove them. The authority is seen as key to the administration’s ability to engage foreign countries in trade negotiations, such as with the Free Trade Area of the Americas.
For about two weeks, GOP leaders have been canvassing House lawmakers on the issue. They have found a bit of opposition within their party, which otherwise is largely behind the President’s expansive free-trade agenda. Concerns within the GOP are mainly focused on the effects of trade on constituents, like textile, apparel and steel workers.
Moderate Democrats, who otherwise support free trade and trade promotion authority, have signaled opposition to the GOP proposal because it doesn’t require trade pacts to include labor and environmental standards. The inclusion of these standards in trade promotion authority is considered key among moderate Democrats, as well as some Republicans, to furthering a trade agenda.
“I don’t understand why they are going for a vote if they aren’t sure they have enough votes to pass it,” said Julia Hughes, vice president of international trade at the U.S. Association of Importers of Textiles and Apparel.
Meanwhile, in a move that sponsors say could ease opposition to globalization, a group of senators Thursday introduced a bill that would expand the number of workers eligible for federal unemployment and training benefits when their jobs are moved out of the country.
Trade Adjustment Assistance — which unemployed textile and apparel workers widely use — is up for renewal in September and Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D., N.D.), said he plans a vote on expanding its scope before then. The expansion bill, among other things, would make employees of suppliers and subcontractors eligible for benefits if they lose their jobs after commercial customers move operations out of the U.S.
“This legislation is critical to begin developing some trust between workers and companies” and to build support for trade legislation, said Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), Finance Committee chairman and co-sponsor of the bill with Daschle and Sens. John Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) and Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.).