Washington By a three-vote margin, the House of Representatives early Saturday morning voted to give President Bush the power to negotiate international trade agreements that Congress can ratify or reject but can't rewrite.
The president hailed the vote later Saturday morning, saying the "fast track" trade promotion authority "will open markets, expand opportunity and create jobs for American workers and farmers."
Senate approval of the measure could come as early as next week. The Senate, which is generally friendlier to trade, passed its version of the measure 66-30 earlier this year, and negotiators from the House and Senate set the stage for Saturday's House vote by reaching a surprise agreement Friday.
The 215-212 vote, which came largely along party lines at 3:30 a.m., ends an eight-year tug-of-war between advocates and opponents of freer trade.
Champions of new trade agreements, many of them Republicans, argue that they will stimulate the U.S. economy and strengthen America's ties to other nations. Other legislators, many of them Democrats, fear new trade pacts will cost American workers their jobs, harm the environment and encourage the exploitation of workers in less developed foreign countries.
Democrats won one crucial demand in the Friday night House-Senate compromise: The bill passed by the House would nearly triple income assistance and health benefits to American workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition. The government would pay 65 percent of such workers' health insurance costs as refundable tax credits.