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Hunter votes to give Bush more power to negotiate free trade deals

December 07, 2001|By SAM SCOTT, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — The Imperial Valley's congressman reversed a long tradition of opposing free trade on Thursday and voted to give the president more power to negotiate international trade deals.

The bill would allow the president to sign trade agreements with other countries that Congress could reject or accept but not amend.

It squeaked by 215n214, with a vote that split down party lines. Most Republicans supported it. Democrats opposed it.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, RnAlpine, said he decided to join the majority of his party to show support for the president in a time of international conflict.

President Bush lobbied hard for the legislation, which was supported by business interests. Labor and environmental groups opposed it.

"I do not like free trade," Hunter said. "But I like less the idea of weakening our president in this time of national emergency."

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He said he was supporting free trade "this once."

The bill now moves to the Senate.

Hunter's history of opposing global trade deals includes voting against the North American Free Trade Agreement, fighting against the global General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and opposing most-favored-nation status for China, according to Mike Harrison, his press secretary. Hunter also opposed fast track when President Clinton sought it.

Hunter views free trade as a drain on American jobs and a reward to countries with which America runs a trade deficit, Harrison said.

Only two of California's 52 legislators broke party ranks on the vote. Reps. Susan Davis, of San Diego and Calvin Dooley of Fresno, voted against the majority of Democrats and supported the bill.

Aaron Hunter, Davis' press secretary, said the legislation would benefit high-tech firms in the congresswoman's district.

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