October 30, 1999
Impasse in Senate Delays Action on Africa-Caribbean Trade Bills
By ERIC SCHMITT
ASHINGTON -- The Senate on Friday temporarily set aside a
package of trade bills for African
and Caribbean nations while Republican and Democratic leaders tried
to break a partisan impasse over
several unrelated amendments.
The bills would reduce or eliminate duties on a wide range of goods
made in sub-Saharan Africa, Central
America and the Caribbean, mostly
those assembled with American-produced fabrics. President Clinton and
a large majority of legislators support the measures.
But Senate Republicans who back
the legislation fell 15 votes short of
the 60 needed to cut off a filibuster
led by Senator Ernest F. Hollings,
Democrat of South Carolina, who
fears that African imports would
hurt his state's textile industry.
The vote could doom the measure
for the year, just a day after
Clinton stood beside Nigeria's President at a White House news conference and renewed his call for its
The measure's supporters, who include a wide array of religious, international and business groups, expressed alarm that political wrangling jeopardized trade bills that
could give a badly needed lift to
lagging economies in Africa and the
All 40 Democrats present Friday,
most of whom endorse the trade
bills, voted against ending the filibuster. They were protesting a parliamentary move by the Senate Republican leader, Trent Lott of Mississippi, to bar amendments, like raising
the minimum wage, that Democrats
want to attach to the package.
After the vote, Lott sidetracked the trade package until next
week while he and the Democratic
leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, negotiate a compromise to allow
the contested amendments to be considered elsewhere -- on a bill that
seeks to change the nation's bankruptcy laws. This would leave the
trade package relatively unfettered.
Lott said compromise must be
reached by Tuesday, when the Senate is to vote again on whether to end
the filibuster, a process called cloture. If the divisive amendments are
not attached to another bill by then,
he said, the trade package will be
"If we don't get cloture on Tuesday then it's dead," Lott said of
the legislation. "We just don't have
the time to grind down the Hollings
Lott warned that if the Democrats did not change their votes, he
would blame them for killing the
trade bills. "They've got to live with
that anti-free-trade, isolationist
vote," Lott told reporters.
Clinton, his top national security aides and Senate Democrats have
accused Republicans of isolationism
in light of the Senate's rejection two
weeks ago of a treaty to ban underground nuclear testing. Republicans
today seemed only too happy to
throw the charge back at the Democrats on the trade issue.
Members of the House, which approved a version of the Africa trade
bill, 234 to 163, in July, urged the
senators to strike a deal. "This bill is
too important to let partisan politics
stand in the way," said Representative Edward Royce, a California Republican, who is a sponsor of the
But Democrats say Lott's maneuvering has denied them a fundamental senatorial privilege, the right
to offer amendments.
On Thursday, Daschle angrily
criticized Lott's tactics and
vowed to the hold the trade bill hostage: "We will never let this legislation pass if we can't offer an amendment, not because we don't support it
-- I strongly support it -- but because I even more strongly support
the right of every single Senator to
be partners in the legislative process."