Bush's 'Fast Track' on Free Trade Shows Confidence Over Budget

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Democrats, including Sen. Joe Lieberman (l), discuss the Bush budget

George W. Bush has declared victory on his slightly compromised budget a few times already. So maybe it wasn't too surprising, Tuesday, that as the Democratic faithful in Congress were making one final cloakroom lunge at it, the president got on with business and sent his next request over to the other 55-60 of them: a "fast tracked" free-trade area in Western Hemisphere.

"One tool I must have is renewed U.S. trade promotion authority," he told the 31st Washington Conference of the Council of the Americas in Washington on Monday afternoon. "I urge the Congress, restore our nation's authority to negotiate trade agreements, and I will use that authority to build freedom in the world, progress in our hemisphere, and enduring prosperity in the United States."

"Fast track" is the lynchpin of W.'s plans to turn the very business-friendly Free Trade Area of the Americas into a reality by 2005. Essentially, it would give him the authority to head down to South America and make the continent a tariff-free paradise for traders of all nations, particularly corporate America's, and only have to deal with this whole Senate-vote nonsense once.

The man does have a soft spot for unilateralism. Keep in mind Congress — which for Bush is the Republicans plus John Breaux and a few of the Louisiana Flexocrat's buddies — still has a budget resolution to pass, which is still supposed to be the defining moment of Bush's early presidency.

See, a couple of pages of the House's document had gotten left behind on the copier, or something, and the solid Republican majority hadn't been able to pass the intended schematics of the 2002 budget Friday like they'd planned. The new plan for synchronized passage in both houses: Wednesday or Thursday. Having come into a few extra days, Daschle, Gephardt and emergent left-side poster boy Harold Ford Jr. started talking a lot about how if folks had just a little more time to actually read the thing, they'd come to their senses and cut Bush's tax cut in half. Spread the money around.

Tuesday, progress against the deal was not apparent. And Bush, with his working assumption that his "people" will get him pretty much what he asked for, is plowing ahead.

It was the usual pitch. "My administration wants to work with Congress and to listen to what many of the members have to say," he said. "We are especially impressed by the fresh new thinking of many members on how to advance freedom and environmental protection in ways that open trade, rather than closing trade."

Fast track and its attendant free-trade mandate has been a Bush family dream for years, is something Bill Clinton loved but couldn't get because labor hates the idea; Bush, of course, has done nothing but poke labor in the eye since he got to Washington, and he may just be right to assume he can succeed again and again, as long as he keeps having "Johnny" Breaux over for dinner.

While Democrats tugged at the sleeves of the Jeffordses, the Chafees and the Breauxs, and showed them this shocking budget number or that, the Senate's public business Tuesday suggested the outcome.

With a forceful endorsement from Jesse Helms — Republicanizing foreign policy is his department — the Senate confirmed John R. Bolton on Tuesday as the nation's chief arms-control official.

Democrats had gone after him hard. "The world," bellowed Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), "is going to see — if the Senate confirms this nomination — Mr. Bolton's appointment as another sign of the president's hard line on positions and a unilateralist policy: Abandon ABM, let's get rid of the ABM treaty or ignore it, build a destabilizing national missile defense system, abandon the Kyoto treaty, suspend missile talks with North Korea, oppose the international criminal court and the international landmine convention.".

The vote was 57-43. Might want to get used to that margin.