SENATE PASSES TRADE BILL
After 18 days of contentious debate, the Senate passed President Bush's top trade priority - legislation to require up-or-down, no-amendments-allowed votes on future trade pacts. The authority, which used to be called "fast-track" and has now been re-named "Trade Promotion Authority," passed on a strong 66-30 vote that belied the sometimes-rancorous Senate debate, and the difficult conference with the House that may lie ahead.
Most farm groups supported TPA, which they see as critical to opening foreign markets. If given final approval later in the year, the new negotiating authority could give impetus to multi-nation trade liberalization talks that began in Doha, Qatar, last year.
Among the tough issues in conference is an amendment championed by Sens. Larry Craig (R-ID) and Mark Dayton (D-MN) that seeks to prevent U.S. concessions on trade protection laws. The amendment is widely expected to be dropped in conference, and the White House has made an explicit veto threat if it is retained. But many House Democrats support the amendment, which is not in the House bill. Since that bill passed by only one vote, a delicate balancing act awaits the conference committee that will produce final legislation, which will need to be re-approved in both the House and the Senate.