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Sen. Hollings Holds Up Vote on GATT, Clinton Braces for Fight

By Ann Devroy and Peter Behr
The Washington Post

A week after predicting the President and Congress would at least be able to take credit for another major trade pact before adjournment next week, the Clinton administration Thursday returned to battle stations for a post-election fight in the Senate that is now causing jitters in the House.

For an administration that has lived two years at the edge, it was familiar territory. And this time, Republicans are not to blame.

Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., ignored personal pleas by Clinton in a private meeting Tuesday at the White House and opted to set off the battle that will bring the Senate into a rare lame duck session at the end of November.

U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor said Thursday that the White House, Congressional leaders and Hollings have now agreed on a time frame for debate and early December vote on GATT, the international trade agreement that took two administrations eight years to negotiate among 123 countries. It would reduce tariffs and subsidies over a 10-year period and has gotten wide support from most Republicans and Democrats as a broad opening of markets around the world that will bring Americans jobs.

Hollings, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, decided to exercise his right to hold the legislation in his committee for 45 days, or past the scheduled Oct. 7 adjournment of Congress for the November mid-term elections. The Hollings move forced Clinton and Democratic leaders to bring the Senate back in December to vote on the pact and caused some in Congress and outside Congress to question why the White House took so long to get the treaty in shape and why the White House sent the legislation up without a nod from Hollings.

Administration officials assert they had no choice and that they have the votes for the agreement once past this maneuvering. "We are now certain to pass it this year," said Kantor.

There are few predictions that Clinton could lose this vote - most say the treaty is too important to his international leadership and has too much support in Congress. But, in what has become a familiar pattern, getting to the vote is turning out to be a messy process.