Senate to Vote on Trade Accord After Election
Abandoning an effort to win speedy approval of a new world trade agreement, the White House and its Senate allies agreed Thursday to delay a vote on the pact until Dec. 1, forcing the Senate into an extraordinary post-election session, White House and Senate sources said.
As a result, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and others seeking to defeat the trade plan will gain an additional two months to rally opposition but will not, as the White House feared, succeed in delaying the vote until next year.
The agreement also means that the fate of the trade accord will be decided by a lame-duck Senate. Major nations awaiting the result of the vote here could end up delaying their ratification decisions.
The measure, which the House is expected to vote on next week, was endorsed Thursday by the Senate Finance Committee, 19 to 0. White House officials remain confident that it will win Senate approval, with one senior aide saying that as many as 80 senators are expected to vote for it.
“It’s not going to be a problem,” the aide said.
The pact would implement a massive revision of the rules that have governed global commerce since World War II. The agreement, negotiated over more than seven years, would cut tariffs--the taxes imposed on imports--by an average of 40% and bring down quotas and other barriers to trade around the world. It would expand the scope of the rules to such growing economic endeavors as services, insurance, pharmaceuticals and some entertainment activities.
By the Clinton Administration’s estimate, the proposed changes in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which has set the rules of international commerce for 47 years, would amount to a $740-billion tax cut around the world, providing a stunning boost to economic growth and employment as a result of lowered prices.
“Every serious economic study of GATT has estimated that it will create hundreds of thousands of high-paying American jobs over the next decade and ultimately add between $100 (billion) and $200 billion to our (gross domestic product) every single year,” President Clinton said at a ceremony at the Treasury Department.
The Administration’s plan to win congressional approval next week was thrown into disarray Wednesday when Hollings said that he would bottle up the accord by exercising his prerogative as a committee chairman to hold it in the Commerce Committee for the full 45 days allowed under Senate rules.
His plan would have put off a vote until after the Senate’s anticipated adjournment for the year on Oct. 7, a move that ordinarily would have pushed the vote over to next year and into the new Congress. No sooner had he announced his plan than Clinton said he would ask the Senate to return after Election Day when the 45-day clock has expired.
The Administration preferred the special session to seeing the issue carry into the new year because the delays could unravel support and raise doubts among trading partners about the United States’ commitment to free trade.
Roughly one quarter of the 123 nations taking part have ratified the plan and the Administration hopes it will go into effect on Jan. 1.
As described by White House and congressional officials, the Senate will recess at the end of next week, rather than adjourn, and then return after Thanksgiving to consider the trade plan.
There was a degree of grumbling among Senate Democrats on Thursday morning over the possibility that they would be dragged back into session after the election and, although White House and Senate aides said the Dec. 1 date is firm, Hollings could still relent and allow a vote next week.
As sketchy details of the procedural agreement emerged Thursday evening, it was unclear whether other issues could be raised during the lame-duck meeting.
Pat Griffin, the White House legislative affairs director, said “the hope would be” that the session would be limited to the trade legislation. But, “there’s a lot floating around out there” that the senators might try to bring up, under their peculiar and often malleable rules, once they are back in session.
Hollings has been an ardent and longtime opponent of the effort to reduce trade barriers and he has said that his concerns about the agreement go beyond its impact on one industry. But there is little doubt that, as a result of the trade pact, the textile and apparel industries struggling in his state would be open to even greater competition from lower-wage producers in Asia than they now face.
Times staff writers David Lauter and Karen Tumulty contributed to this story.