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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Slow on Fast-Track Bill

WASHINGTON -- On the eve of a major trade speech by U.S. President Bill Clinton, White House aides conceded privately they need more time to build a consensus in Congress for broadening his treaty-making authority.

Even as Clinton spoke Tuesday of plans to pass "fast-track'' legislation this fall and his package was taking shape, some aides said the White House may wait until next week to submit its proposed language to lawmakers.

At issue is the president's right to submit trade agreements to Congress for a speedy up-or-down vote without amendment. The power, once routinely granted, expired three years ago. The debate promises to be just as bruising as the 1993 debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Clinton, who now wants to expand trade throughout Latin America and the Pacific Rim, pushed the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress over heated objections from two key Democratic constituencies -- labor and environmental groups.

They argued that the vast U.S. market should be opened to developing nations only if those countries pledged not to exploit workers or the environment to increase sales.

House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, a potential 2000 presidential rival of Vice President Al Gore, has said he will fight any future fast-track authority unless it contains provisions to ensure protection of worker rights and the environment.

Clinton has endorsed strengthening the labor and environmental language in future deals, but Gephardt and other leaders want explicit assurances that environmental and labor issues are "essential parts'' of future trade accords -- and are enforceable.

Republicans, who control Congress, balk at that kind of language, saying threatening other countries over the two issues amounts to meddling.

Aides had expected to have the legislation ready Wednesday, when Clinton summons the chief executives of some of America's biggest companies to an East Room ceremony to kick off the fast-track campaign. But now the legislation's language is not expected to be ready until next week, which threatened to make Clinton look silly promoting a still-unfinished package.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott agreed. He said he told the White House: "You mean you're going to announce what you're doing, but you don't have it yet?''

Outlining his fall agenda, Clinton said Tuesday he wanted to restore presidential fast-track authority "to break down foreign barriers to America's goods and services.''

At a Democratic fund-raiser Tuesday night, Clinton said the growing economies of developing countries have caught lawmakers' attention.

"Congress became acquainted with the fact that there were seven economies in Africa that grew at greater than 7 percent last year,'' he said. "So we had no trouble getting Republicans as well as Democrats to support the African trade initiative -- because it wasn't about black or white; it was about green.''