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Kantor Challenges Perot To Debate GATT

November 17, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor today challenged Texas billionaire Ross Perot to debate the merits of a new world trade accord. The White House says it needs at least three more Senate votes to ratify the pact.

″I’ll debate Ross Perot any time on this issue,″ Kantor said.

Perot, an independent candidate for president in 1992, opposes the accord, negotiated under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Last year, Perot’s debate with Vice President Al Gore on the North American Free Trade Agreement was credited with helping the Clinton administration eke out a narrow victory on that trade pact.

Kantor was responding to a challenge from Perot to debate Pat Choate, an economist and author who has worked with Perot. He said he wasn’t interested in debating Choate but said he would be ″delighted″ to square off with Perot.

Russell Verney, national policy coordinator for Perot’s United We Stand organization, said Perot would prefer that Choate debate Kantor because ″the American people have got to understand this without getting politics involved.″

The GATT debate, if it happens, would occur at a forum being organized by United We Stand in Wichita, Kan. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., who will be Senate majority leader, has asked Kantor to attend.

The challenge came as White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said the administration is three to five Senate votes short of the 60 needed to ratify the accord.

″We’ve got some work to do,″ he said. ″We have somewhere between three to five votes still to be nailed down.″

Panetta said he is confident of House passage on Nov. 29. But, in the Senate, where the vote is scheduled Dec. 1, Dole has raised three objections to legislation implementing the accord.

He has emerged as the key to obtaining the three to five votes and administration officials made it clear they will do what they can to satisfy him.

″I think he’s raised some legitimate questions. I think they can be addressed,″ Kantor said today. ″We’ll continue to work over the next few days and I am hopeful we can reach a productive resolution which will gain his support for this trade bill this year.″

Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., the incoming chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, predicted Kantor would be able to accommodate Dole.

President Clinton, in a speech Wednesday to U.S. business leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia, urged Republicans to join with Democrats to pass the GATT accord.

Invoking the name of a Republican who once headed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton recalled the admonition of the late Sen. Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan that ″partisanship should stop at the water’s edge.″

Gore, at a news conference Wednesday in Washington arranged by big corporations supporting the accord, said ″It is abundantly clear that a delay of the GATT would definitely kill the GATT ... and hurt our country immeasurably.″

Incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in a letter to Clinton, renewed his pledge to work for a large bipartisan majority for GATT.

But Gingrich, R-Ga., told reporters he remains ″very concerned″ about GATT’s prospects in the Senate and said the White House ″needs to agree″ to concerns expressed by Dole.

Dole has said he is predisposed to support GATT and would prefer to do it this year during a session of the lame-duck Democratic Congress.

But Dole wants an administration commitment to support separate legislation early next year that would strengthen the ability of the United States to withdraw from the accord if its interests were harmed.

Dole also wants to address a controversial deal giving three communications companies discounts on valuable licenses to develop the next generation of wireless telephone systems.

And he is concerned about a provision that eliminates the 4 percent minimum yield guaranteed on U.S. Savings Bonds and replaces it with a floating minimum tied to Treasury bill rates.

Because of budget rules, the GATT bill must pass the Senate with at least 60 votes. Packwood said it would clear that hurdle ″handsomely,″ provided it has Dole’s support.

Packwood said he doubted that one conservative critic, Sen. Jesse Helms, R- N.C., would sway many other senators to oppose GATT. Packwood added that textile firms in Helms’ state oppose GATT because it phases out trade protections for the industry over 10 years.

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