President Clinton's proposal for expanded trade negotiating powers cleared a critical hurdle in the Senate on Tuesday, creating at least some momentum for the administration's come-from-behind push for passage by the House this week.
The margin of victory was larger than most senators expected; nine more than the 60 needed to limit delaying tactics and force approval of the "fast track" trade measure before Congress adjourns for the year this month.
Even before the 69-31 Senate vote, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Tex., said the bill's prospects were improving with both parties in the House, where nose counts have consistently showed Clinton falling far short of the votes needed for passage, especially within his own party.
After the vote, Clinton went to the Rose Garden to hail the result: "Today's vote shows that a bipartisan coalition for American leadership, which has sustained us throughout this century, can help us meet the challenges of the next century. An America-last strategy is unacceptable. We have a unique obligation to lead."
Clinton urged the House to follow suit, stressing his solidarity with the aims of liberal critics who are fighting the legislation. "Of course we should seek to raise labor and environmental standards in developing countries, and to stop abuses like child labor," he said. "But this legislation will give us more leverage in pressing those goals."
Most of the Senate opposition to the bill came from Democrats, largely from industrial and farm states, who said that it would lead to loss of American jobs to countries with weaker labor and environmental protections.
The bill would empower Clinton to negotiate trade agreements that Congress could only accept or reject, not amend.