Days before its August recess, the Senate voted 64-34 to restore “fast track” authority to the White House, granting President Bush one of his biggest legislative victories. The trade bill narrowly passed through the House last week with a vote of 215-212.
“We can show the world that America will lead the way in building a new consensus on international trade,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said.
The Senate bill includes a 10-year, $12 billion plan to increase the number of workers eligible for financial and training benefits if they lose their jobs because of trade agreements.
Sen. John S. McCain (R-Ariz.) praised the passage of the bill, saying it would end “short-sighted protectionism” that has caused U.S. allies to doubt the country’s commitment to free-trade principles.
Staunch opponents of the bill — including Sens. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) — said new trade deals would take away American jobs. Lawmakers opposed to ?fast track? argued that U.S. workers and farmers could not compete against inexpensive labor sources in foreign countries with lower environmental and working standards.
“I’m delighted to vote for trade, [but only] when you’ve got a level playing field,” Hollings said.
The bill now goes on to President Bush, who is expected to quickly sign it into law. The White House has lobbied Congress to restore trade authority, saying the bill would foster economic growth and job creation. Advocates of the legislation say it facilitates new trade deals with foreign countries, which would otherwise hesitate to agree on trade deals that could be altered later by Congress.
“This is a historic and great day for America,” Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said.
The “fast track” trade bill grants the president authority to negotiate international trade agreements, which Congress could veto or approve, but not amend line-by-line. Since 1974, every U.S. president has received the trade authority until 1994, when the Republican-controlled Congress refused to renew it for President Bill Clinton.