Career Advancement for Professionals
October 30, 1999

Impasse in Senate Delays Action on Africa-Caribbean Trade Bills

WASHINGTON -- 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 passage.

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 Caribbean region.

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 sacrificed.

"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 filibuster."

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 House bill.

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."

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