Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Governors Pledge Support for NAFTA Agreement

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Governors Pledge Support for NAFTA Agreement

Article excerpt

GOVERNORS meeting at the National Governors' Association gathering in Tulsa, Okla., pledged Aug. 16 to mount an aggressive bipartisan push to get congressional approval of the free-trade pact with Mexico and Canada.

Privately, several Democratic and Republican governors have complained that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was in political trouble because President Clinton had not made a forceful argument for its passage.

The agreement, already approved in Mexico and Canada, presents a thorny political issue for the president because of the deep opposition within his party and its allies in organized labor.

But Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman said the governors' concerns about Mr. Clinton's commitment to the pact were unfounded. "We intend to fight tooth and nail for this agreement," Mr. Altman said. "NAFTA is part of this administration's economic package, a central part."

Another administration official, speaking privately, said Clinton wanted to push for passage of the trade pact this fall and simultaneously lobby for his health-care plan.

Clinton opened his campaign for health-care overhaul Aug. 16, promising coverage to all Americans and urging Republicans to support him. But immediate protests from GOP governors underscored the uncertain, partisan path awaiting his landmark proposal.

Clinton offered few specifics of the plan, the first effort by a president to require universal health coverage. But his senior health-care adviser, Ira Magaziner, offered some details, and disputed the Republican contention that an employer mandate would be a job-killer.

Mr. Magaziner said the plan would be phased in over five to seven years and ultimately require big employers to pay 80 percent of their employees' premiums. That would cost about 7 percent to 7.5 percent of payroll, he said.

Small firms would be offered sliding-scale subsidies, with tiny firms required to pay no more than 4 percent of payroll. That money would come from a pool, in the range of $30 billion to $40 billion, financed by savings in federal health spending.

Magaziner said the president had not yet decided whether to propose new "sin taxes" on alcohol or tobacco or both. …

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