Clinton: Fast-Track Authority Isn't Dead (11/10/97)
Analysis: What's Next In Fast-Track Debate
After a presidential defeat, fast-track supporters search for alternatives
By Craig Staats/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (Nov. 12) -- When President Bill Clinton met with reporters earlier this week for a post-mortem on his stalled bid for fast-track trade negotiating authority, the president was at his "What-me-worry?" best.
Just a temporary setback, Clinton suggested. They would bring the legislation back at an "appropriate" time, he said, when they could fold in Democratic concerns about labor and environmental standards overseas and carry the day.
"And what we need to do is to sort of unpack the politics and the emotion and the substance and try to go back and put this together in a way that allows us to have a big bipartisan majority in the House for a constructive fast-track authority that enables us to move forward on all these fronts," Clinton said. "And I think we'll be able to do it."
Forget the presidential bravura, though. The fact is that in the wake of Clinton's defeat, supporters of free trade are already looking to fill the vacuum with some "small-is-beautiful" alternatives to what the president wanted.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman William Roth has said if Clinton fails again, he will push for a stripped-down alternative that would focus on industries in which the U.S. has a competitive edge, including information technology.
"I intend to develop a narrower fast-track proposal that would allow us to move forward," the Delaware Republican told The Associated Press.
Even Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt, an opponent of the stalled fast-track proposal and a likely rival to Vice President Al Gore in 2000, is talking about offering an alternative.
If Gephardt comes up with something that organized labor can support, that could help him and further cut into Gore's standing as the Democrats' heir apparent. What happened on fast-track over the weekend was a clear win for the nation's labor movement, which ran TV ads and inundated members of Congress with phone calls and letters in opposition.
The postponement of the fast-track vote represented a disappointing defeat for Clinton, who found himself out of step with both House Democrats and labor.
It puts at risk an important goal for Clinton's second term: to lay the groundwork for creating free-trade areas in the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific. Clinton believes, as do many economists and business leaders, that free trade spurs economic growth.
The setback also will put Clinton in an uncomfortable position when he heads to Vancouver, B.C., next month for a meeting of the 18-nation Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Leaders there surely will want to hear what Clinton says about the chances for renewed fast-track authority.
Along with Gephardt, one person who comes out of this in better shape is House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who worked with Clinton and avoided trying to score political points when it was clear Clinton didn't have the Democratic votes he needed. Even some of Gingrich's Republican critics in the House have praised how he handled the issue.
For the Clinton Administration, doing without fast-track authority will mean a tougher time in trade negotiations. Nations are reluctant to negotiate deals with the U.S. if they fear endless changes in the Congress.
But the administration still has authority to complete talks it began under the so-called Uruguay Round of global trade talks.
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