The Guardian (London) | February 15, 2007
Cheney Urges Firms to Lobby Free Trade
By DEB RIECHMANN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday urged the nation’s manufacturers to lobby Congress in what he said would be a difficult battle to extend President Bush’s special trade authority.
The 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.’’
On another business topic, 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 Democratic-controlled Congress. But they have acknowledged that it might not be signed into law under the current administration.
The legislation would require formation of a union after a majority of workers signed authorization cards. 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 authorization cards.
The proposal, which was to come up for a vote 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 vote on forming unions by secret ballot rather than signing cards or petitions.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said employers routinely threaten and coerce employees when they try to form unions.
``The Employee Free Choice Act levels the playing field to give workers a fighting chance to have a union and bargain for better wages and benefits,’’ Sweeney said. ``It puts in place real penalties for employers that violate workers’ freedom to make their own choice about a union.’’
In Cheney’s brief speech, which was followed by a question-and-answer session, the vice president said the administration was making inroads in 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.