Some See Vote This Week as Presaging Fast Track's Doom
Woellert, Lorraine, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The House added $1 million to the budget of the U.S. Trade Representative on Thursday after a one-hour debate. It was only pocket change in federal budget terms, but the message was more important than the money.
"Make no mistake about it, this vote is a miniature . . . fast track," said Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican, asserting that the 356-64 vote is an indication of overwhelming congressional opposition to giving the president so-called fast-track authority.
"Fast track" would allow President Clinton freedom to negotiate trade deals that Congress can't amend. Congress in the past freely has granted presidents that authority, but this year many people are fearful of issues huddling under the umbrella of globalization, such as national sovreignty, job losses, food safety, the World Trade Organization and environmental protection.
Thursday's lopsided vote gave USTR another $1 million to defend the United States at the World Trade Organization, the North American Free Trade Agreement and other world trade bodies.
"This amendment deals with democracy and national sovereignty and the right of the American people and their local, state and nationally elected bodies to make legislation in their best interests," said Rep. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and co-sponsor of the amendment.
But some lawmakers thought the move was simply aimed at giving USTR some extra cash.
"It doesn't mean anything. Bernie Sanders has this sense that this was a pre-NAFTA vote, an indication. That's just nuts," said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat. Despite his belief that USTR is understaffed and needs more funding, Mr. Moran voted against the Sanders amendment, on principle, he said. "It became clear they were trying to send a signal."
President Clinton's fast-track request has touched off a fiery debate over expanding the North American Free Trade Agreement to Chile, and increasing U.S. involvement in the World Trade Organization and other international trade bodies concerned with foreign investment.
Unions, environmentalists and others say the move toward economic globalization is encroaching upon America's ability to set its own course and uphold its own laws.
Mr. Clinton tried to temper that concern with a fast-track bill that would give him some authority to negotiate labor and environmental agreements under the auspices of the International Labor Organization and other groups.
That language didn't go far enough to appease many Democrats, and it angered Republicans reluctant to give Mr. Clinton any more authority than absolutely necessary. …