WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration expressed confidence yesterday that it has enough Senate votes to ensure final passage tonight of a sweeping world trade agreement that would provide an important bipartisan victory for the White House.
Administration officials said they had commitments from at least 57 of the 60 senators they need to prevail on a procedural vote that represents the last major hurdle before U.S. ratification of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The White House lobbied furiously last night to nail down the last few wavering votes.
"It will pass," U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor predicted yesterday.
Tonight's vote on GATT will be the last business of the 103rd Congress, which is meeting in its first lame duck session in 12 years, just to deal with the trade agreement. The House approved the pact overwhelmingly Tuesday night and then adjourned.
A clear sign of Senate momentum building in favor of the 124-nation accord was that opponents were losing ground among traditional allies.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, a self-described "blue-collar" Democrat, announced yesterday that she would ignore pleas of her supporters in organized labor that she reject GATT. Ms. Mikulski said she had concluded that there was nothing to be gained by blocking the deal and that an opportunity for greater U.S. prosperity could be lost.
"The working people of Maryland are on both sides of this debate," Ms. Mikulski told her colleagues as they opened two days of debate on the GATT agreement. "I hear them and acknowledge what they are saying. . . . They worry about their very lives being downsized.
"But voting against GATT will not save those jobs or bring those jobs back," Ms. Mikulski said.
"The world will either pass us by or we'll be part of the new economic relationships."
Ms. Mikulski noted that she voted last year against the North American Free Trade Agreement, which labor also opposed: "And yet, based on what I'm seeing now, NAFTA maybe was not as bad as I had anticipated."
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland's senior Democratic senator, xTC also supports GATT.
Like Ms. Mikulski, he opposed NAFTA last year.
Mr. Sarbanes said he had been chiefly troubled by the "fast track" procedure that barred Congress from amending NAFTA, even though only two other countries -- Canada and Mexico -- were involved.
"I'm supporting fast track for GATT because there are 123 countries to deal with," he said, noting that making changes at this point could unravel the entire effort.
In addition, Mr. Sarbanes said, "This agreement includes a mechanism that allows us to get out, despite the concerns some have raised to the contrary."
The trade agreement, negotiated over seven years by three U.S. presidents, is designed to boost global prosperity by reducing tariffs and other trade barriers that impede access to most imports. It would also establish new rules to govern trade in agriculture and services, and to protect intellectual property such as copyrights and patents. An international tribunal, the World Trade Organization, would be created to settle trade disputes.
Liberal labor leaders, America-first conservatives and lobbyists for industries that fear they will be hurt under GATT have joined to try to persuade lawmakers that the trade pact would further weaken the U.S. economic base.
"We're losing jobs," said Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, the South Carolina Democrat who blocked GATT from being taken up before the 103rd Congress adjourned for last month's elections, in part to protect his state's textile industry. "We've got 40 million hungry in America."
Other senators contended that the trade agreement would impede the United States' ability to limit imports made with child labor or in unsafe, polluted working conditions, and would intrude on U.S. sovereignty.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat, is raising a procedural hurdle that will require 60 votes to approve GATT, instead of a simple majority of 50. He argues that the administration fell $14.5 billion short in offsetting the $43 billion in tariff revenue that is expected to be lost in the first decade after GATT takes effect.
Supporters contend that by stimulating growth, the accord would raise far more money for the government than it would cost.
But the shortfall violates Senate rules that bar legislation that would increase the budget deficit unless a "supermajority" of 60 senators approves.