White House pushes forward with GATT LTC

November 22, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton is pulling out all stops to push the GATT world trade treaty through Congress in early December, but he faces a struggle in the Senate, where demands from Bob Dole could sink the deal.

Mr. Dole, the Senate Republican leader from Kansas and a likely presidential candidate in 1996, refused to back down yesterday from his weekend bid for new concessions from Mr. Clinton as the price of his support for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Mr. Dole wants Mr. Clinton to cooperate next year when the Republican Congress moves to cut the tax rate on capital gains.

White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta ruled that out Sunday, and senior White House aides insisted yesterday that Mr. Panetta's rejection of the deal stands. But Mr. Dole refused to take Mr. Panetta's initial position as the last word.

"That means he [Panetta] only took one shot at it," Mr. Dole told reporters. "He can fire again."

George Stephanopoulos, one of Mr. Clinton's closest advisers, said that the White House position is firm, but that top Clinton aides are working hard to satisfy Mr. Dole's other concerns about the treaty.

"We made some progress over the weekend with Senator Dole," Mr. Stephanopoulos said, adding that the White House expects that Mr. Dole ultimately will come around and support the treaty. Asked if GATT could clear the Senate even if Mr. Dole remains opposed, Mr. Stephanopoulos said: "Sure, but I don't think it'll come to that."

But another senior White House aide conceded that "it's really up to Dole. More than anyone else, he's going to be the determinant of whether the trade agreement goes up or down."

The GATT treaty -- the product of seven years of global negotiations pursued by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, as well as Mr. Clinton -- would set new rules governing world trade.

Most economists say the deal would boost the U.S. economy and create as many as a half-million jobs in coming years by lowering tariff barriers to U.S. products around the world. It also would provide trade protection for the first time to many U.S. service industries.

Critics complain that the treaty would lead to the loss of many jobs in U.S. industries that now are protected by tariffs. And they say the proposed World Trade Organization, which would police the treaty, could override U.S. environmental and other laws.

The nation's largest businesses support the deal even more ardently than the Clinton administration.

In the House, where a simple majority vote is all that is needed, the treaty is expected to pass with relative ease Nov. 29.

But the Senate requires a three-fifths' majority of the full Senate -- or 60 votes, regardless of how many senators show up -- to waive a budget rule requiring that tax revenues lost because of the deal must be made up with new revenues or spending cuts.

The Clinton administration has found budget cuts to offset GATT's projected heavy import-tax losses for the treaty's first five years, but not for the second five.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat and departing chairman of the Finance Committee, said a few days ago that he had only 27 firm votes for the agreement and another 20 or so leaning in favor of it.

That count leaves GATT supporters 13 votes short of the number needed to waive the budget rule. The showdown vote in the Senate is expected Dec. 1.

About 25 senators have indicated that they are undecided. Turning their votes is crucial to Mr. Clinton. "In terms of immediate issues, [GATT] is the No. 1 priority right now in the White House," a senior Clinton aide said yesterday.

To help build momentum behind the treaty, 200 small-business exporters will be brought to the White House today for a rally.

Next week, aides say, Mr. Clinton himself will go into overdrive to sell the treaty. On Monday he will be the host of a major rally for GATT in the East Room of the White House featuring prominent trade officials from the Reagan and Bush administrations. Mr. Clinton will make other high-profile appearances every day next week.

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