Fast-Track Debate Goes Into Wee Hours
Gingrich Tries To Rally GOP Votes
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Nov. 9) -- With the House very much divided and the final outcome in doubt, the debate on a bill to give President Bill Clinton so-called fast-track trade authority was delayed until late in the night.
The rare Sunday session was expected to stretch into early Monday morning before a final vote was taken, though the possibility remained that the bill would be pulled by supporters if there were not enough votes to pass it.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a supporter of the measure, characterized chances of passage as "uphill," though he expressed confidence in an eventual victory.
But as supporters scrambled to find the votes they needed to pass fast track, hours ticked away, with House members spending their Sunday debating resolutions on the persecution of Scientologists in Germany and regulations on medical devices.
The president's campaign to win approval of fast track suffered a setback Sunday when two key undecided Democrats -- Rep. Nita Lowey of New York and Rep. Chakka Fattah of Pennsylvania -- both came out against the bill.
"It is a step backwards, in my judgment, from the NAFTA I voted for," Lowey said, a reference to the free-trade pact with Canada and Mexico that Clinton wants to extend to Chile using the authority contained in fast track. "This bill relegates labor and the environment to second-class status."
But Gingrich, to whom Clinton has been forced to turn for support because of Democratic opposition to the measure, rallied GOP troops, trying to offset the loss of Democrats.
Gingrich was reportedly pitching the bill to Republicans by saying that defeat of fast track would be a big win for organized labor, which poured millions of dollars into campaigns against Republican candidates in 1996.
"I think a lot of our members resent the kind of muscle that the union bosses have brought into the Capitol," Gingrich said.
The fast-track bill would give the president the authority to negotiate international trade deals that would not be subject to congressional amendments -- only approval or disapproval by Congress.
Supporters of fast track say that without that authority, the administration would have a much more difficult time negotiating trade deals. They say other countries would be wary of making commitments if they fear Congress could go back and later rewrite them.
But opponents, including organized labor and environmental groups, say fast track would not do enough to ensure that those trade deals take into account their potential impact on American jobs and the environment.
Clinton, who spent the weekend trying to round up the necessary votes, has been battling his own party on this issue. The two top Democrats in the House, Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Minority Whip David Bonior, are both working to mobilize Democrats against fast-track.
Some Democrats who support abortion rights were afraid the president might make a deal with anti-abortion conservative Republicans to exchange their support for fast track for Clinton's acquiescence to restrictions on money to overseas family planning agencies. But Sunday, Clinton ruled that out.
"If we can't get the votes without that, then we'll have to regroup and figure out some other way to go forward on fast track," he said on NBC's "Meet The Press."
CNN Correspondent Bob Franken contributed to this report.