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Berman Defends His Support of Trade Bill

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Back in the San Fernando Valley after a tumultuous session in Washington, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Mission Hills) on Wednesday vigorously defended his decision to break from his party’s Congressional leadership and support the so-called “fast-track” trade bill.

Berman told a luncheon hosted by the San Fernando Chamber of Commerce that “my party, on this particular issue, was wrong.”

After the lunch, Berman said he felt he needed to explain his support for the bill partly because his position generated criticism from some of his constituents.

“I want to persuade people that my position is the correct position,” he said.

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The bill would give the president the authority to negotiate trade deals with other countries and would only allow Congress to accept or reject the deals in their entirety. Congress could not add amendments to the agreement under the fast-track bill.

It is an authority that every president has had since 1974.

But it is a bill that, despite Clinton’s support, was opposed by 80% of Democrats in the House, environmentalists and influential labor unions who fear the bill would depress wages and pollute the environment.

Last month, Clinton pulled the bill from consideration to avoid an embarrassing legislative defeat. It is expected to be reconsidered next year.

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Berman’s district is heavily Democratic and strongly pro-union. He told the 50 generally-supportive lunch guests Wednesday that without fast-track authority, other countries would refuse to negotiate with the president for fear that Congress would not quickly endorse the president’s agreements.

“We can’t afford to sit on the sidelines while the rest of the world hammers out new trade agreements,” Berman said.

He also argued that the bill would have benefited the local economy by reducing trade barriers in other countries and allowing more goods to be exported from the region.

“The U.S. has the most to gain and the least to lose by signing new trade agreements,” he said.

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He rejected arguments that the bill would have allowed the U.S. to enter into deals with countries with weak child labor and environmental laws. He said the president could address those concerns when he negotiates a trade agreement.

The rest of the Valley’s congressional delegation followed their party platform. Reps. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) and James Rogan (R-Glendale) supported the fast-track bill. Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles) opposed the bill.


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