Pubdate: Fri,  5 Apr 2002
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Neil King Jr. and Shailagh Murray
Note: Paragraph nine provides tie-in specific to drug policy

Politics And Policy


WASHINGTON -- President Bush, seeking to regain his free-trade credentials, 
urged the Senate to act this month to give him the power he needs to 
negotiate big international trade deals.

In a speech to foreign diplomats at the State Department, Mr. Bush said he 
needs Congress to give him trade-negotiating authority now so he can move 
forward with trade talks on many fronts. In his remarks, Mr. Bush said "the 
time of delay must end," and proposed a deadline of April 22 for a vote on 
a trade-authority bill, which would allow Congress to pass or reject, but 
not amend, large administration trade agreements.

A defeat on this issue could dash the president's hopes to rebuild his 
image as a free trader a month after he imposed hefty tariffs on most steel 
imports. Some Democrats warned Thursday that chances of a major trade bill 
passing the Senate this year have dwindled. While many Democrats would be 
willing to grant Mr. Bush's request for so-called fast track trade 
negotiating authority, they want a hefty package of benefits included in 
the deal to help American workers.

Fast track gives the president the authority to present big trade deals, 
such as those developed under the auspices of the World Trade Organization, 
to Congress for a swift up-or-down vote. Congress granted it to five 
presidents in a row prior to Bill Clinton; it expired in 1994.

But big trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, can 
also lead to a shift in how business is done. Jobs can be lost in one 
industry and gained in another. And while free-trade advocates say 
increased international trade inevitably helps both rich and poor countries 
increase living standards, via more competitive industries, skeptics 
contend there is a cost. They say rich countries in particular benefit, 
with large companies gaining the most. They also say environmental 
standards and labor protections suffer, with the most labor-intensive jobs 
migrating to the poorest and least-regulated markets, typically outside the 

The differences of opinion over fast track are finding strong voices within 
the Senate, where the main fight is over a Democratic proposal to increase 
federal assistance -- and provide temporary healthcare coverage -- to 
workers who lose their jobs because of international trade. The spat over 
health care mirrors a similar brawl last year over the administration's 
unsuccessful stimulus package.

Senate Democrats made clear they won't move forward with a major trade bill 
unless it includes a hefty trade-adjustment assistance package, a provision 
the White House opposes. Both sides accused the other of playing politics 
with an important trade issue, accusations that are expected to grow louder 
as the November election draws closer and the parties battle for control of 
the narrowly divided Senate.

"Every day we go by without the authority is another day we're missing 
opportunities to help our economy, to help our workers, to help our 
country," the president said. There are, he said, more than 150 regional 
free-trade and customs agreements in the world, but the U.S. is a signatory 
to only three of them: Nafta, and individual pacts with Israel and Jordan. 
The European Union, in contrast, adheres to 31 of them, and Mexico is part 
of 10 agreements.

Mr. Bush also called on Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and other 
Democrats to return trade preferences to Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and 
Peru. Such preferences, meant to help wean those Andean nations off of drug 
cultivation, lapsed last year. The White House believes the April 22 
deadline would give the Senate time to act on both bills by May 16, when a 
temporary extension of the Andean trade preferences expires.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, said he 
was "disappointed" Mr. Bush made no mention of worker assistance. No trade 
legislation will move through the Senate without such assistance, he said. 
Mr. Bush managed to push a similar bill through the House last year by a 
single vote.

As debate over health-care benefits heats up, Democrats expect Republicans 
to propose a tax credit similar to what the GOP put forward in the stimulus 
package. The Republican proposal would have allowed people to purchase 
coverage on the open market. Democrats, then as now, want a direct subsidy 
tied to the Cobra program, which allows unemployed people to purchase 
health care from their former employer.
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MAP posted-by: Beth