For the second time in his short congressional career, Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, was invited to the White House for an arm-twisting session by President Bush on Thursday.
The first time Orton was invited was in January, when he was one of the few House members undecided on whether to vote to allow the Persian Gulf war. He ended up supporting Bush after long deliberation.On Thursday, Orton - a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee - was among a dozen undecided House members that Bush lobbied for support on upcoming votes to give him "fast-track" authority to negotiate an open-trade agreement with Mexico.
Fast-track authority means Congress would agree to not amend any agreement negotiated, and simply vote to accept or reject the entire package. Bush contends that a long line of amendments that would likely result otherwise would make passing any agreement difficult.
Orton said Bush has not yet achieved his support, although he appreciates such White House meetings to show the administration is willing to work with Congress.
"I am torn. I understand we have to have a fair-trade agreement with Mexico. But I question the need for a `free' trade agreement, and the need for fast track," said Orton, who traveled to Mexico last week to research the issue.
He said the Constitution assigns Congress duties over trade issues, and he is reluctant to vote to give up much of that to the president.
Also, he said he worries about American jobs that could be lost to Mexico depending on how the agreement is negotiated. And he wants the open up the possibility of exporting more Utah goods to Mexico. He wants Congress to remain a player to see those goals are met.
Orton - who has a reputation for examining votes in great detail before deciding on them - still plans more research on the issue. When will he decide what to support? "Sometime before the vote," he said. It is expected by early June.