Clinton sends fast-track trade bill to Congress President says he'll confer more with House, Senate

September 17, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton sent his long-awaited fast-track trade bill on to Congress yesterday, but it received a lukewarm reception that suggests the White House faces an uphill battle to secure House and Senate approval.

The legislation is designed to open the way for a broad array of trade negotiations, including expansion of the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement to Chile, by guaranteeing that Congress will not seek to unravel any new trade agreements the White House hammers out.

However, in a bow to the Republicans who control Congress, Clinton rejected demands by unions and conservation groups that any new agreement contain tough labor and environmental standards as part of the basic trade accords -- and thus enforceable through U.S. trade sanctions.

Instead, he proposed adopting a far narrower standard that calls for including only those labor and environmental provisions that are "directly related" to or "necessary and appropriate" to reducing trade barriers. He pledged to address broader environmental and labor issues in other pacts.

The White House unveiled its legislation in a political blitz, with top administration officials swarming over Capitol Hill to brief key House and Senate leaders. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore personally met with the House Democratic Caucus, many of whose members oppose the bill.

In a bid for whatever support he could glean from both parties, Clinton took pains to portray the measure as a bipartisan effort, allotting both Republicans and Democrats a share of the credit for the booming economy and proclaiming that "we have made great strides together" on legislation.

He also pledged to beef up "consultations" with Congress in advance of any new trade accord. Under the legislation delivered yesterday, the administration would be required to notify Congress in advance of any new negotiations it wants to undertake, and to keep lawmakers abreast at every stage of the talks.

The administration promised in a statement that Congress would become "a full partner" in any new negotiations.

Nevertheless, it is clear the president faces a difficult task in trying to push the measure through Congress quickly. Although Republicans pledged to send the bill to the House and Senate floors by later this month or early October, liberal Democrats hinted they may try to delay it.

Congressional strategists said Clinton's late afternoon meeting with the House Democratic Caucus was especially contentious, with anti-fast-track lawmakers criticizing him harshly for proposing the legislation and Clinton visibly angry in responding to their charges.

Pub Date: 9/17/97

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