House expected to vote on historic trade deal

Friday, July 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House prepared to vote on a major trade package that gives President Bush the authority he says he needs to solidify America's economic leadership while extending new protections to Americans battered by the effects of global competition.

Working late into the night Thursday, House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement on a compromise package shortly before midnight. The House was expected to take it up Friday, its last day before leaving on a five-week summer recess.

Bush, who from his first days in office has urged Congress to give him the ``fast track'' or trade promotion authority that every president since Gerald Ford has enjoyed, has pressed lawmakers to send him a bill before leaving for the summer.

``This is an important part of a legislative package necessary to create jobs and keep the economy going,'' he said earlier this week.

The Senate, in session one more week before leaving for its August recess, is likely to vote on the bill next week.

Trade promotion authority allows the president to negotiate new global trade deals that Congress may approve or reject but cannot change. The authority expired in 1994 and Congress rejected several attempts by President Clinton to get it renewed.

To win passage this year in the Democratic-controlled Senate, an ambitious plan was attached to expand the four-decade-old Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which gives financial and training benefits to workers displaced by foreign competition.

Particularly, it for the first time provides a health insurance subsidy to laid-off workers. Splitting the difference between the 70 percent tax credit offered by the Senate to buy health insurance and the 60 percent proposed by the House, workers could get a subsidy equivalent to 65 percent of their health insurance cost.

Also for the first time, secondary workers, such as suppliers to trade-affected businesses, would become eligible. And benefits now given to workers when their plants move to Mexico or Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement would be expanded so that a worker whose plant moved anywhere overseas would be eligible.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said the package, which also extends a trade agreement with four South American countries, would become ``the most historic trade legislation'' ever passed by Congress.

Baucus said the compromise contains 85 percent to 90 percent of the language in the Senate bill that provides the new benefits, costing up to $12 billion over 10 years. He said that it would show Americans that, if their livelihoods are affected by trade, ``we're there for them.''

``We believe we have achieved our goal'' of satisfying both those wanting to advance America's trade agenda and those concerned about the effects of trade on workers, said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, R-Calif.

The benefits package was essential to Democrats involved in the negotiations. ``Trade Adjustment Assistance is the core of the whole thing,'' said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. ``I don't think there's a whole lot of give on the Democratic side.''

The two sides removed language in the Senate bill, strongly opposed by the White House, that would have given the Senate the power to remove provisions in a trade agreement that weakened U.S. laws on dumping and foreign subsidies. Instead, they agreed to take steps to ensure that trade negotiators fully consult Congress.

The House passed its bill in December by a 215-214 vote. Most Democrats opposed it, saying it did not adequately protect worker and environmental rights.

The Senate version passed 66-30 in May.