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Cheney asks manufacturers to push free trade

Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday urged top U.S. manufacturers to lobby Congress in what he says will be a difficult battle to extend trade promotion authority to President George W. Bush.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday urged the nation’s top manufacturers to lobby Congress in what he says will be a difficult battle to extend trade promotion authority to President Bush.

This authority, which expires on July 1, allows the president to negotiate trade agreements that must be considered by Congress on an expedited basis that bars any amendments.

“I think it’s going to be a tough fight,” Cheney said in a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers. “We’re strongly supportive of it. It’s very important for us to continue to have that authority, but we’re going to need help on Capitol Hill.”

Cheney said the president would veto legislation that would make it easier to form unions. Labor activists have said they believe they can get the Employee Free Choice Act through the Democratically controlled Congress. But they have acknowledged that it might not be signed into law under the current administration, and Cheney affirmed their fear.

The legislation would require formation of a union after a majority of workers signs an authorization card. Under current law, 30 percent of workers can request an election to form a union, a process that usually takes from six weeks to six months, said AFL-CIO organizing director Stewart Acuff. Currently, a company would have to agree to allow a union to be formed based on a majority signing an authorization card.

The proposal, which comes up for a vote on Wednesday in the House Education and Labor Committee, would also impose stronger penalties on employers who violate labor laws, and allow for arbitration to settle first contract disputes. Leading business lobbies such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce oppose the legislation, saying workers should be allowed to vote on forming a union by secret ballot, rather than signing a card or petition.

In his brief speech, which was followed by a question-and-answer session, the vice president said the administration was making inroads on a dispute over China’s currency policy. U.S. manufacturers contend the Chinese yuan is undervalued by as much as 40 percent, making Chinese goods cheaper in the United States and U.S. products more expensive in China.

Cheney called on the Democratic Congress to make tax cuts permanent, saying it’s time for skeptics to acknowledge that tax relief has driven U.S. economic growth. He pushed the president’s energy, immigration and health care initiatives that were outlined in last month’s State of the Union address, and pledged to work with Congress to reduce the use of earmarks — a common Capitol Hill practice of slipping pet projects into spending bills.

The group of businessmen were especially receptive to his comments on trade.

The administration won passage of the Central America Free Trade Agreement in 2005. But, Cheney said, it was one of the hardest votes he has been involved in during his six years as vice president.

The 217-215 House vote on CAFTA showed how tough it has become to get a trade deal through Congress. It required personal appearances on Capitol Hill by Bush and Cheney and — with Democrats united in opposition — some arm-twisting of wavering Republicans to avert what would have been a devastating defeat.

“Our ability to move forward and to continue to advance the trade agenda that we’ve had in the past is dependent on having trade promotion authority extended,” Cheney said.