President Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich stood shoulder to shoulder Monday, acknowledging defeat in their quest to give Clinton more power to negotiate trade agreements while still insisting that the “fast track” bill would mean more jobs for Americans.
The unlikely allies resisted blaming each other for the failure to produce a majority last weekend in the House. They talked instead of renewing the fight next year, when looming congressional elections will only make their task more difficult.
“We’re on the same side trying to get this done, and we’re going to keep trying to work together trying to get it done,” a puffy-eyed Gingrich told reporters Monday after working well past midnight in a vain effort to rally votes.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., labor union leaders and other opponents of the expanded negotiating authority, meanwhile, rejoiced in the victory, saying they were the ones protecting American workers.
Gephardt said he wanted to avoid a repeat of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he said resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs to Mexico.
“The reason the vote failed is because the last great trade treaty we had failed, and everyone knows it,” Gephardt said at a Capitol news conference.
Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., one of a few dozen Republicans vociferously opposed to giving Clinton greater freedom to strike trade agreements, jabbed at the president - though not fellow Georgian Gingrich.
“This is a loss for a power-hungry White House and a win for American workers, consumers and small businesses,” Barr said.
With the House planning to end its work for the year Thursday, there was only the slimmest chance that Congress would grant Clinton broader negotiating powers this year.
“We’ll have another opportunity later on, probably next year,” Gingrich said.
Clinton told reporters at the White House he is confident “we will ultimately prevail in this Congress,” which remains in office until after the November 1998 elections.
Gingrich called off a vote early Monday morning following a 1:15 a.m. EST telephone conversation with Clinton. It was apparent to both men they would not find the additional six to eight votes Gingrich said they needed.
Gephardt, backed strongly by the unions, led all but 40 to 45 Democrats in opposition to the negotiating authority, known as “fast track.” GOP leaders estimated they would have at least 160 supporters in their ranks.
The authority - given to every president since Gerald R. Ford - would give Clinton freedom to negotiate trade agreements without having to worry that Congress would change them. Congress could merely approve or reject the final agreements.
Clinton is seeking the broader power in order to reach trade agreements in Latin American and Asian markets. He argued that foreign negotiators would be reluctant to strike a deal if Congress could later insist on making it more favorable to U.S. interests.
Gingrich heaped blame on the unions, who he said are “dominant in the Democratic Party.”
Charging that the unions cowed Democrats into opposing the legislation, Gingrich touted a bill that would allow union members to withhold the portion of their dues that go to political activities.
And he had a clear answer to the opponents of fast track authority. “In the long run, we create American jobs through world sales,” he said.
The speaker warned that in Latin American markets, exports from Europe and Asia would take the place of those from the United States.
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