WASHINGTON — The new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), said Tuesday that he would work with Republicans to extend President Bush’s authority to negotiate trade deals without allowing amendments from Congress, which expires at the end of June.
The business community and pro-trade veterans welcomed Rangel’s comments on the Trade Promotion Authority measure, but were wary about the price Democrats will put on an extension.
During a committee hearing on the impact of trade and globalization on the economy, Rangel asked for input from a panel of experts about crafting new legislation “to see whether we can give the administration an offer they can’t refuse in a bipartisan way.”
The President is expected to seek a renewal of Trade Promotion Authority, possibly in a speech on the economy he will deliver today in New York.
Speaking at a Caterpillar plant in Peoria, Ill., on Tuesday, Bush said: “We’re going to continue to negotiate free trade agreements. And by that I mean we just want people to treat us fairly. I’m confident in our ability to sell American product and services overseas if the playing field is level.”
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow has said Bush wants “to continue to have Trade Promotion Authority; every other president has had it. It is the ability to negotiate a good-faith trade agreement without it later being changed by Congress, which means you have to go back to the table and kind of renegotiate.”
If Congress does not approve an extension, the current round of global trade talks and all pending free trade agreements would likely be delayed or derailed, which is what many in the business community and administration are trying to avoid.
“If we don’t give trade promotion authority [to the Bush administration], we’ve got to have a good reason for not giving it,” Rangel said.
In Geneva, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said she is looking forward “to working with the United States Congress, Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, to see Trade Promotion Authority renewed.”
Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has said he supports an extension, but also is seeking an expansion of Trade Adjustment Assistance — federal funding allocated to workers displaced by trade.
Some experts maintain that Democrats could seek several changes to Trade Promotion Authority, including strengthening labor and environmental provisions in trade agreements, an expansion of Trade Adjustment Assistance and a “limited” extension covering just the talks known as the Doha Round, and possibly a short list of pending trade deals.
Gene Sperling, who was President Clinton’s top economic adviser and is now senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, testified that the administration should take a number of steps “as a down payment” in exchange for an extension of trade promotion “limited to the Doha Round” of global trade talks. He suggested the administration could get this by agreeing to use the labor provisions in the Jordan Free Trade Agreement as a model for future agreements, negotiating strong environmental provisions in the Doha Round, making a commitment to strengthen and upgrade the role and enforcement of the International Labor Organization and doubling the budget of the International Labor Affairs Board at the Labor Department.
Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics, said Democrats, including Rangel, are posturing publicly in support of an extension because they do not want to be blamed for “killing” the global trade talks.
“The question is the price they will attach” for an extension, Hufbauer said. “The price is going to be high,” even for a limited extension covering just the Doha Round of global talks, which Hufbauer said is the most likely scenario.