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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. House Votes to Give Bush More Trade Power

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly endorsed a major trade bill that President George W. Bush says could be a key to American supremacy in the world economy and restored vibrancy for American businesses.

America has fallen behind as a trade leader, said Republican Representative Bill Thomas, the chief sponsor of the bill giving the president broad trade negotiating authority. "It is time to pass legislation to get us back in the game."

The House voted 215-212 early Saturday to pass the bill, hours after Bush had traveled to Capitol Hill to personally appeal to Republicans to support him.

"He just basically said: 'I want it because the American people need it,"' Thomas said.

The bill, said Bush, is "very important for jobs and our workers, very important for our farmers and ranchers, and it's very important for our economy."

The Senate could take up the bill this week, sending it to Bush for his signature and reviving trade promotion, or fast track, authority after an eight-year lapse.

That authority allows the president to negotiate international trade agreements that Congress may approve or reject but cannot change. Every president since 1974 has enjoyed that authority, which Bush says is crucial if the United States is to lead in new World Trade Organization trade liberalization talks and efforts to establish a Western Hemisphere free trade zone.

Fast track has been a priority of the president since he took office, and, with the business community reeling from recent scandals and stock market setbacks, Bush has stepped up the pressure on Congress to give him the authority to open up new markets.

National Association of Manufacturers vice president Frank Vargo said passage of the bill "should provide a solid boost to the nation's economy."

Friday was the House's last day before its departure for a six-week summer break. The Senate has one more week before its summer recess begins.

Democrats in the Republican-controlled House overwhelmingly voted against the bill, arguing that it does not include adequate assurances that labor rights and the environment will be protected in future trade deals.

"To ensure improved living standards at home and abroad, trade policy needs to enhance human rights, reaffirm worker rights and promote environmental protection," said House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. "This legislation fails on all counts."

The Democrat-controlled Senate, in its original version of the bill passed last May, expanded benefits in an existing program, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, that helps workers who lose their jobs because of trade.

Under the final compromise bill worked out with the House, laid-off workers could get a refundable 65 percent tax credit to pay for health insurance, and an extended pool of workers, including some secondary workers who supply goods to trade-hit companies, would become eligible for benefits.

Farmers and ranchers would qualify for benefits, and workers whose plants are moved to certain foreign countries could also receive financial, retraining and health benefits.