Speaker calls for vote on delayed trade bill
November 5, 2001 Posted: 8:29 PM EST (0129 GMT)
By Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hoping to get a stalled "fast-track" trade bill moving again, House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Monday announced the House would vote on the controversial measure within two weeks.
But a senior Republican aide said Hastert's timing may be geared as much toward building support for the bill as it is aimed at getting lawmakers to vote.
"It's an 'if you build it, they will come' effort," said the aide, who acknowledged Republicans still do not have enough votes to win passage.
Word of the new schedule came in a letter from Hastert, R-Illinois, delivered to Rep. Bill Thomas, R-California, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and the bill's chief advocate in the House.
In the letter, written Friday, Hastert urged Thomas to skip an impending World Trade Organization conference in Qatar and remain in the United States instead.
"The successful passage of a TPA (Trade Promotion Authority) bill will add not only a much-needed boost to the economy, but it will serve as a virtual instrument in increasing our national security," Hastert wrote. "The urgency of the bill's successful passage necessitates your presence here in Washington."
The bill has languished in the House for months while Republican backers have worked to build support for the measure, which would give the president authority to negotiate trade pacts with other nations. The bill would give Congress the right only to accept or reject the pacts without amendment.
Many Democrats oppose the measure, saying they are concerned environmental and labor standards might be ignored during trade agreement negotiations.
Hastert is to meet Wednesday with Thomas, Rep. Cal Dooley, D-California, a key pro-trade Democrat, and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, the ranking Democrat on Ways and Means, to discuss the bill. President Bush met with Rangel last week.
"They've come to the realization that they've got to engage Charlie [Rangel] in order to get this through," a Democratic aide said. "But I'm skeptical they'll have the votes in the next two weeks."