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Congress Moves Closer to Granting Bush Trade Powers

The Bush administration called the compromise a breakthrough and said the president will lobby for final passage personally. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush would urge Republican unity behind “the milestone accomplishment of passing trade promotion authority.”

The legislation is expected to go to the House floor as early as Friday and the Senate next week.

Fast track authority, which has been a priority for President Bush since he first took office, significantly increases the power of the president to negotiate trade issues with other countries.

Without such authority, the president’s ability to negotiate with trading partners is limited since Congress can dissect and change the deal piece by piece. The authority expired in 1994 and Congress rejected several attempts by President Clinton to renew it during his term in office.

Both the House and the Senate had passed legislation incorporating fast track earlier this year, but their bills differed in key areas, including how to help workers who lose their jobs because of increased foreign competition or because the company moves to another country.

Thursday’s agreement gives workers who lose their jobs for trade-related reasons a new package of financial assistance to continue their health insurance, according to aides to the two main negotiators, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.).

Affected workers would receive a tax credit for 65 percent of their health insurance premium, which would be continued through an existing government program for laid-off workers. For the first time, secondary workers, such as suppliers and sub-contractors, would become eligible.

Baucus said the compromise 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.”

Earlier this week, Mr. Bush called the legislation “an important part of a legislative package necessary to create jobs and keep the economy going.”

He is expected to use the new authority to push for more open markets in Latin America and other parts of the world.

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