Clinton Makes The Case For 'Fast Track'
Harks back to years of cooperation in speech to wary labor leaders
By Thomas H. Moore/AllPolitics
PITTSBURGH (Sep. 24) -- President Bill Clinton went before the nation's labor leaders to celebrate their years of cooperation on many issues, discuss his belief in streamlined trade agreements and beg for mercy when he and his allies go after the power to create them.
In his speech to the AFL-CIO's annual convention in Pittsburgh, Clinton made his case for being granted so-called "fast-track" trade agreement authority, which the labor federation bitterly opposes. It spent $1 million last week on ads arguing that "fast-track" would throw American workers out of work and would depress labor and environmental standards.
AFL-CIO head John Sweeney presented Clinton to the crowd with a chilly introduction. Clinton knows he won't win labor's support on this issue, but wants to limit collateral damage as much as possible.
Clinton urged the labor leaders not to retaliate against members of Congress who are reliable union allies but who are supporting him on this particular issue. "They have fought for you and for all working people, and they deserve our support," he said.
"If they were to lose their positions because they stood up for what they believed was right for America's future, who would replace them?" he asked. "And how much harder would it be to get the necessary votes in Congress to back the president when he stands by you against the majority?"
Clinton took some time warming up to the issue of trade agreements. He outlined what he called the "three crucial elements" of his economic strategy: Deficit reduction, investing in America's people and expanding exports.
The president said he'd been able to achieve the first two simultaneously, with cooperation and support from the nation's labor movement.
"I have vetoed every piece of anti-labor legislation that has crossed my desk, and I will continue to do so," he said, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd. (384K wav sound)
Clinton then asked for labor's support on safe issues like education and on keeping tobacco away from kids. (128K wav sound)
Only then did he move on to trade authority. "I know we don't see eye-to-eye on fast-track, but I think I owe it to you to tell you exactly why I feel so passionately about it, and I think I've earned the right to be heard on it." (288K wav sound)
"Fast-track authority is a tool that has been given by Democratic congresses to Republican presidents, and presidents indeed of both parties for more than 20 years now," Clinton said.
"It simply says that if the president or his representative -- his trade representative -- negotiates a trade agreement, then the Congress has to vote on it, if it rises to the level of comprehensive agreement, but must vote it up or down, so that the other country does not believe it is negotiating with 535 people in addition to the person with whom they negotiated." (488K wav sound)
The Clinton Administration and the nation's labor movement have been allies on many issues through the years, said White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry on Tuesday, "So I don't know why we would go in there thinking that it's Daniel in the lion's den tomorrow."
But even to be thinking of the relationship in those terms is unusual, and points to probably the greatest stress in the relationship between Clinton and labor since 1993's bitter fight over the North American Free Trade Agreement.
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