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After Lengthy Senate Schlep, Trade Bill Heads to Messy Conference and an Uncertain Final House Vote on Whatever Might Emerge

May 22, 2002

After Lengthy Senate Schlep, Trade Bill Heads to Messy Conference and an Uncertain Final House Vote on Whatever Might Emerge

Statement of Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen?s Global Trade Watch

Senate final passage of the Fast Track package by a wide margin has been a foregone conclusion. (Senate trade votes are always lopsided: the ?94 Uruguay Round/ WTO vote was 69-31 and the 2000 China PNTR vote was 83-15.) What is historic about this trade bill is its difficult path in the Senate and its uncertain fate in the House.

Given that the Senate has always been a well-greased legislative luge run for trade bills, the four long weeks of debate is unprecedented, to say nothing of an array of thorny amendments that make up the ingredients for the conference from hell. Yet, given what looms next, that was the easy part. Now the package jumps into a swamp of a conference. And then, if a deal emerges, that final bill faces an uphill battle to obtain a House majority. Fast Track squeaked by in late 2001 by only one vote after extraordinary procedural and pork barrel maneuvers.

But first, the conference faces many contentious issues. The Dayton-Craig trade law amendment was supported by 16 GOP senators among 68 who voted not to table it. It has broad support among the House rank-and-file and House Democratic leaders while GOP leaders and the White House seek to remove it. It would provide a modest speed bump on Senate review of a trade bill if, and only if, Congress? negotiating objectives on trade law were ignored by the executive branch. It is seen as a signal of Congress? intent to restore checks and balances to its delegation of Congress? exclusive constitutional trade authority.

Meanwhile, as some conservative House GOP members hint that they will return to their traditional Fast Track opposition, the issues that led House “free trade” Democrats to oppose Fast Track in 2001 remain. The demise of the Kerry Amendment, aimed at keeping the NAFTA Chapter 11 model out of future pacts, means key swing House Democrats will maintain Fast Track opposition. The demise of the Lieberman Amendment means the so-called “Gramm” language, which guts the House Fast Track bill?s already-pathetic labor and environmental provisions by removing the enforcement terms and the obligation of countries to enforce their own labor and environmental laws, remains in the bill. The White House never did seek the Unemployment Insurance Reform (including COBRA help for laid-off workers) demanded by New Democrats last year as a condition for considering Fast Track, and the special assistance for airline, hospitality and other workers hurt by 9/11 demanded by some of the key swing Democrats also was never forthcoming.

Meanwhile, some key GOP lawmakers are adamant that Senate Trade Adjustment Assistance provisions be cut back. But many House and Senate members demand that the Senate definition of “secondary workers,” which cut from TAA downstream workers (including Teamster truck drivers threatened by NAFTA open border trucking), be broadened.If a deal emerges from conference, it faces a second House vote haunted by the ghosts of trade votes past. Last week, Rep. Tom Sawyer (D-Ohio), a 16-year incumbent, lost a primary to a 26-year-old state assemblyman over one and only one thing: permanent constituent rage about Sawyer’s 1993 pro-NAFTA vote.