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Trade power for Bush nears vote

Republican leaders and the White House worked into the night Friday to pass legislation in the House of Representatives that would give President Bush a freer hand to negotiate international trade agreements.

The furious lobbying, which included a rare midafternoon visit by Bush to the Capitol, came after congressional negotiators struck a deal breaking a two-month deadlock on the trade legislation.

Senate approval could come as early as next week.

If the House and Senate approve the deal _ an outcome that did not seem certain Friday night _ it would mark the first time in eight years that Congress has let the president negotiate trade deals that it could approve or reject, but not change, within a limited time of debate.

The agreement between House and Senate negotiators was a long-sought victory for Bush, who has promoted trade as a way to improve relations with other countries and boost the U.S. economy.

Democrats won one crucial demand in the House-Senate compromise: It would nearly triple income assistance and health benefits to American workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition.

"This is a strong bill for workers affected by trade," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Negotiators dropped language that would have allowed Congress to kill terms of trade agreements that altered U.S. trade law protections, such as regulations that prohibit selling foreign products in the United States at cut-rate prices. Bush vigorously opposed giving Congress that veto power.

The trade deal came at the same time that negotiators from the two legislative chambers reached a separate agreement to overhaul the nation's bankruptcy law. The two breakthroughs cheered business lobbies the day after Congress largely had ignored their objections and passed a tough corporate accountability bill.

Upon word that a deal had been reached on the trade legislation _ known as fast track or Trade Promotion Authority _ Bush met with House Republicans in the Capitol to rally support.

Emerging from the meeting, Bush said the bill "is very important for jobs and workers, very important for our farmers and ranchers, and it's very important for our economy."

The agreement also would renew and expand trade preferences for Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. The United States has given the four Andean mountain nations preferential trade status since 1991 as part of an effort to counter the illicit drug trade in Latin America.

Bush has said the enhanced powers of Trade Promotion Authority will permit him to move forward with a hemispheric trade pact that reaches from Canada to Chile by 2005.