Utah's delegation backs president; see A2.
President Bush won authority from Congress Friday to conduct amendment-proof trade agreements with Mexico and other nations.In a 59-36 vote, the Senate followed the House's lead in extending the so-called "fast-track" authority for two years.
Bush had said he needed the fast-track power to proceed with talks to tear down barriers between the United States and Mexico and other trading partners.
Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., led the opposition, saying a free trade zone with Mexico will destroy the ailing textile industry in his home state.
He said South Carolina could lose 1.4 million jobs in the next decade as companies move to Mexico where labor is cheap. "That is why we are so desperate," Hollings said during debate Friday.
The fast-track concept effectively bars Congress from changing a trade agreement once it is signed, forcing lawmakers to make a take-it-or-leave-it vote on a negotiated treaty. The House approved the proposal Thursday, 231-192.
Sen. Don Riegle, D-Mich., who also opposed Bush, said he will not abandon his fight. He intends to push legislation that will allow Congress to change any agreement with Mexico to ensure American jobs and the environment are protected.
"This U.S.-Mexico free trade agreement is really a jobs program for Mexico," he said. "What is clear, the United States needs a jobs program for this country."
Bush on Thursday said he "couldn't be more pleased" with the House action on an issue he has called vitally important to the hemisphere's future.
He said foreign governments would refuse to talk with the United States about tariff-reducing measures unless U.S. trade negotiators had the flexibility and power to make deals - without having them changed by Congress.
Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a crucial Bush ally, said the vote was a "momentous occasion for the Senate," determining whether the United States chooses to "move forward or backward as a country."
"There should be no mistake about it - the stakes are high," Bentsen said before the vote. He noted that fast track affects talks not only with Mexico but also the Uruguay Round negotiations with 108 countries under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Bentsen supports the view advanced by U.S. and Mexican governments - as well as the business community - that a free trade agreement removing tariffs will benefit the United States by opening up new export markets and boosting the economy.
A North American free trade zone, comprising the United States, Mexico and Canada, would form the largest consumer market in the world with an annual output of $6 trillion.