TPA ATOP REVISED BUSH AGENDA
Byline: Kristi Ellis
WASHINGTON — President Bush raised the political stakes Friday as he placed trade promotion authority, an economic stimulus plan and an energy plan on the top of his agenda and in the context of the war against terrorism.
Bush, who was joined by Vice President Dick Cheney, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick at a gathering in the East Room of the White House, urged Congress to act on the three bills before it adjourns for the year.
But time is running out on the legislative calendar, which was disrupted by the specter of anthrax contamination on Capitol Hill. Bush said the war against terrorism has two fronts: the military campaign in Afghanistan and the U.S. economy.
“There is no question the terrorists want to cast a shadow of fear on the businesses of America,” Bush said. “They understand how important our businesses are to our way of life.”
He noted the more the economy is disrupted by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the more the perpetrators will feel they are successful, yet he claimed they would not succeed.
“But it’s clear that our economy has been shocked,” Bush said. “There have been shock waves sent throughout all parts of the nation’s economic fabric,” he noted, pointing to the financial center in New York, as well as to the travel and hotel industries.
He said the vitality of the economy depends on “Americans’ willingness to spend+to start new businesses, purchase new equipment and invest in the future of this country.”
In making his case for TPA, Bush said expanding trade “can restore economic confidence.”
“A part of our economic recovery program is to give me ability to negotiate agreements,” said Bush. “I need trade promotion authority to expand opportunities for businesses large and small, for entrepreneurs in America.”
Bush has repeatedly called on Congress to grant him TPA in time for the scheduled launch Nov. 9 of another round of World Trade Organization trade-liberalizing talks. He also wants TPA to energize negotiations to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas and embark on other free-trade deals.
TPA is seen by supporters as crucial, because with the power, Congress can only vote trade pacts up or down and can’t amend them, which assures trading partners that negotiations won’t be undone. However, TPA is mired in a struggle by many Democrats who want to have labor and environmental standards become a routine part of trade pacts, so that a country’s low wages and protections aren’t used to their advantage.
While the TPA bill awaiting a House vote contains labor and environmental language, the result of negotiations between Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R., Calif.) and four moderate Democrats, the compromise apparently isn’t enough to garner the sufficient Democrat votes needed for passage. Even if TPA meets with success in the GOP-controlled House, Sen. Max Baucus (D., Montana), chairman of the trade-bill writing Finance Committee, is offering his own bill with stronger labor and environmental provisions and ways to enhance the role of Congress in trade negotiations. Baucus is trying to get House leaders to incorporate his changes in their bill.
Another fight is shaping up over the economic stimulus package, which the House narrowly passed on Wednesday. In his speech, Bush praised tax relief provisions in the $100 billion House package, though he has suggested a smaller stimulus bill of $65 billion to $75 billion over the next year.
Challenging the Democratic-controlled Senate to work on a compromise, Bush said, “New lower tax rates for consumers and entrepreneurs will show up in paychecks on the first day of the new year if we can get that passed out of the Senate.”