Derailing Fast Track

BARNES, FRED

Derailing Fast Track by Fred Barnes Republicans finally have President Clinton right where they want him. He's desperate for their support and willing to make concessions to get it. The issue is...

...Now, Clinton professed eagerness to move ahead, even if it meant clashing with Gephardt and labor...
...He called publicly for Clinton to send up a fast-track bill so it could be enacted before the budget talks took center stage...
...Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard...
...Dozens of the 228 Republicans oppose giving Clinton anything...
...Time is on their side...
...And we have to face that...
...Senate Republicans were tougher...
...Too busy, in other words, to concentrate on trashing Republicans seeking reelection to the House and Senate...
...At the finance committee, the treatment was rougher still...
...Any loopholesóWays and Means lawyers are "scrubbing" the bill to find themó will have to be eliminated...
...Chairman Bill Roth joined Lott and Phil Gramm in telling Clinton aides the bill was unacceptable as written...
...Their economies are on a fast track...
...By last spring, Archer was getting antsy...
...This summer's budget negotiations saw Republicans falling all over themselves to offer concession after concession...
...The president understands, to his credit, the importance of exports and competing in the world marketplace," says Archer...
...After the election, Clinton's tune changed...
...The issue is fast track, the authority Clinton needs to win ratification of new free-trade agreements without Congress amending them to death...
...Eight Republicans, including Archer, declined invitations to the ceremony because Clinton hadn't sent Congress a bill yet...
...Clinton said he would...
...Lott wants the labor and environmental provisions scrapped entirely...
...True, Clinton came a long way in their direction by adopting Archer's idea that only labor and environmental matters "directly related to trade" should be part of trade agreements...
...Archer, for one, isn't inclined to delay...
...Republicans, enjoying the Democratic fratricide, can afford to wait...
...With fast track on the table in early 1996, the AFL-CIO will be busy lobbying against the bill...
...Again, the White House wouldn't move...
...That same day, Clinton's chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, gave Senate majority leader Trent Lott a background briefing...
...Since most Democrats don't like free trade, Clinton needs Republicans to get fast track, just as he did in passing the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993...
...This time, the president wants the whole matter over as quickly as possible because it puts him sharply and bitterly at odds with organized labor and congressional Democrats, his party base...
...Lott cited specific qualms, and Bowles said the White House would try to ease them...
...In any event, says Archer, "it was a lost opportunity...
...So, if the White House hasn't recruited enough Democrats and altered the bill to satisfy every Republican complaint, there are grounds for postponing a vote until 1998...
...They got nowhere because the White House wanted it both waysóa bill acceptable to Republicans and House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt...
...Republicans have another card to play: the legislative schedule...
...Gephardt's goal was a bill that allowed tough environmental and labor requirements to be imposed on trade partners...
...I'm a free trader at heart, but I'm cautious about turning the [trade] authority over to the president," says Rep...
...Running for reelection last year, Clinton wasn't willing to buck Gephardt and his labor allies...
...Nonetheless, Clinton trotted out precisely that argument when he announced his plan for fast track at an East Room ceremony on September 10...
...So Republicans can demand exactly the fast-track bill they want...
...But Kantor persisted...
...He'll vote no on fast track...
...Joe Scarborough of Florida...
...Archer urged him to dispatch fast track legislation as quickly as possible...
...He didn't want to compound his problems," says a Clinton aide...
...In preliminary talks between the White House and Republicans, the role reversal has been total...
...No government shutdown looms for Clinton to exploit...
...Archer conferred one-on-one with the president just after Christmas for more than an hour, and they touched on fast track...
...But there's no public pressure for fast track or for extending free trade to Chile now and perhaps later to Argentina and Brazil...
...Now Clinton and his minions are the supplicants...
...Clinton knew he'd anger congressional Democrats and labor in the budget deal and was leery of crossing them before that...
...For once, Republicans seem disposed to use the advantage that circumstances have given them...
...He was still trying to soothe the feelings of Democrats opposed to fast track...
...It was clear to me he had a very strong commitment to free trade...
...And when Republican senator Phil Gramm complained at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on September 17 about a potential loophole in fast-track legislation, trade representative Charlene Barshefsky said: "I see what you're saying, and certainly we need to look at this...
...The White House wasn't always so accommodating on fast track...
...From our perspective, it is an extremely constructive and encouraging start," says Archer of Clinton's fast-track proposal...
...Potential markets in Latin America and Asia are growing, and European countries are rapidly getting a leg up in exporting to them, he said...
...He didn't...
...Lott only says fast track will be "dealt with," no necessarily passed...
...Some Republicans see a big plus in delay...
...At this point, the White House probably has no choice except to go along with Lottóor else no fast track...
...When Archer rejected proposed language for the bill and offered alternatives, Kantor would invariably respond, "I can't sell this to Gephardt...
...Archer told White House aides they must round up 90 Democratic votes in the House to compensate for GOP defections...
...Lott had gotten a draft of the bill before Bowles arrived to brief him, and he dwelled on several parts that troubled him...
...They are not waiting for us to pass a bill...
...When GOP representative Bill Archer, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, spotted a small technical flaw as officials privately previewed the fast-track bill for him on September 16, Clinton aide Jay Berman instantly agreed it should be fixed...
...First, Barshefsky's confirmation as trade rep was delayed, and the White House didn't want to move without her, especially given her popularity with Republicans...
...Having dawdled, the White House undercut the notion that fast track is needed immediately...
...Wisely, though, Archer is prepared to ask for more...
...Republicans insisted, correctly, this would thwart trade, not expand it...
...In 1995 and 1996, Archer met repeatedly with Mickey Kantor, then Clinton's special trade rep...

Vol. 3 • September 1997 • No. 3


 
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