WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration's long battle to win approval for a sweeping worldwide trade pact appeared in peril when the incoming Senate majority leader raised objections to it.
In a coordinated series of speeches yesterday in Asia and in the United States, administration officials from the president on down feverishly tried to build momentum for winning the vote in special lame-duck sessions of Congress starting later this month.
But the continued reluctance of Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., to support the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade indicated the hurdles facing the administration.
President Clinton has staked his international reputation on the agreement's passage, and would suffer a stunning embarrassment if he could not get it through Congress this year. The votes in the lame-duck sessions also are considered an indication of whether the administration will be able to work with the incoming Republican Congress.
Mr. Dole said he was still concerned that the trade agreement would create a new World Trade Organization that might harm U.S. sovereignty and was disturbed by some of the provisions inserted in the legislation to raise money for expected tariff losses.
Without Mr. Dole's support, the administration is unlikely to get the 60 votes needed under Senate rules to bring the trade deal to the floor. "I think if Senator Dole is with us we will carry this very handsomely," said Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore.
Passage in the House is expected. Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., the incoming House speaker, has pledged his support to the trade bill and says that the implementing legislation should put to rest any questions concerning U.S. sovereignty.
The trade agreement, an expansion of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that has governed world trade since shortly after World War II, would slash tariffs, reduce agricultural subsidies and create the World Trade Organization to settle disputes.
More than 120 countries have signed the pact, which administration officials say would bring $740 billion in savings for consumers around the globe.
Under "fast-track" rules governing the trade bill, the legislation cannot be amended. Mr. Dole's staff is drafting proposed companion legislation to address his concerns; the administration says it is open to his ideas.
"I'd rather fix it and do it this year," Mr. Dole said. "If we can't fix it, then we can postpone it" until next year."
But administration officials said that any delay would kill GATT. They argue that fast-track authority would expire at the end of the year, leaving the trade bill open to amendments that would cripple it.
"Delay of the GATT would mean the death of the GATT," said Vice President Al Gore, flanked by senior administration officials, business executives and congressional leaders.