WASHINGTON – Blaming Republicans, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle pronounced trade promotion authority, or fast-track legislation, dead even though the debate and vote are not even scheduled to begin until next week.
"The right wing has killed the TPA and we'll move on to other bills," Daschle, D-S.D., said Tuesday.
President Bush has long called TPA a top economic priority. The measure would allow the president to negotiate bilateral trade deals and get congressional approval without congressional interference. President Clinton was stripped of the authority in 1994 when the Senate refused to renew the president's mandate, and it has not been granted since.
Before his recent trip to South America on a trade summit, Bush set a deadline for Senate passage of April 22. Daschle ignored it.
On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney pressed the issue anew, saying that the bill is critical to jobs.
"It's time now for the Senate to act. The earlier the Senate passes TPA, the faster the president can put it to work for the good of America and all of the democracies in the hemisphere," Cheney told a Council of Americas conference at the State Department.
Republicans say it is Daschle, as majority leader, who is killing the trade deal by attaching too many conditions to it. Daschle combined the provisions with two other measures — the Andean Trade Agreement, which reduces tariffs for South American products and is meant to reduce the continent's reliance on drug production, and a Trade Adjustment Assistance measure, which is a brand new entitlement for certain displaced industrial workers whose jobs end up moving overseas as a result of trade deals.
Many in the GOP refuse to accept the latter, saying Democrats are spending way too much for the measure.
"The costs would wind up being astronomical," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott. "For health care and retirement benefits, with steel and with railroad, where does it end? Does the federal government do that for everybody?"
The GOP has said it would negotiate a smaller benefit for displaced workers but not as much as Democrats want. Daschle said Republicans are stalling, and it's an all or nothing deal.
"We can't afford this irresponsible, dilatory approach that they have subscribed to for the last few weeks and the price will be the defeat of the trade bill as a result of their own obstruction," Daschle said.
Seen as an economy and jobs measure, Daschle said since Republicans won't accept all the Democratic-sponsored entitlements, the overall trade bill will not come up for a vote, further hurting the economy which further increases unemployment.
"They are responsible for killing it. They ought to take full responsibility for it publicly and we will make sure that that is known to the business community and to everybody else: they killed the bill."