By Karin Fischer, Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Bucking House Republican leadership and the Republican president, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., voted against expanding presidential trade powers.

But the "no" votes by Capito and her two West Virginia colleagues were not enough to defeat the fast track trade authority bill. It passed Thursday, 215- 214.

President George Bush had pushed hard for the legislation to strengthen his hand in negotiating trade agreements, relenting little after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, taking the floor just before the vote, said lawmakers should support Bush during wartime.

"This Congress will either support our president who is fighting a courageous war on terrorism and redefining American world leadership or we will undercut this president at the worst possible time," Hastert, R-Ill., said.

Until the last moment, Capito had been an undecided vote on trade promotion authority, a familiar position for the freshman legislator. As with other controversial measures, Capito was lobbied heavily by both sides, including personal phone calls from Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

Capito said her vote was won by pleas from businesses and workers at home. In a conversation shortly before the vote, Capito continued to return to a recent visit to Spencer, where a B.F. Goodrich aerospace plant is scheduled to close next year, putting 147 people out of work.

"I'm not opposed to trade," she said. "I just honestly feel these trade policies could cost West Virginia jobs."

Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., called the legislation "a fast track to the unemployment line for American workers."

His fellow Democrat, Alan Mollohan, said the timing of the legislation makes it particularly unwelcome. "We've already sacrificed too many jobs on the altar of free trade," he said. "With our economy struggling, we can't afford to sacrifice any more."

Mollohan also is skeptical about giving Bush free rein to negotiate trade bills, noting the administration's willingness to open American trade laws to discussion at recent World Trade Organization meetings.

"Fast track," as the provision is called, takes away congressional ability to amend trade agreements, restricting lawmakers to an up or down vote. That is abdicating congressional authority and responsibility, Rahall said.

Republican leaders Thursday also brought up legislation reauthorizing trade adjustment assistance in a last-minute attempt to attract Democrats and wavering Republicans. It passed 420-3.

While she supported the trade adjustment assistance, Capito said it didn't make her more amenable to fast track. Trade adjustment assistance, which provides expanded benefits and worker retraining, doesn't help people like the B.F. Goodrich workers in Spencer. Roane County has an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent.

"All the training in the world is not going to replace those jobs and those benefits," she said.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D- W.Va., has not said he will take up the bill. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., opposes fast track, while Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is undecided.

Writer Karin Fischer can be reached at (202) 662-8732.

Words from Washington - "West Virginia Jobs Come First" (From Congresswoman Capito's weekly column)

By: Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)

Last month, I traveled to Spencer, in Roane County. A BF Goodrich plant there is closing its doors, and soon, approximately 150 people will be without a job. BF Goodrich, which makes rubber slides for airplanes, was forced to severely cut its production with the continuing decline of the airline industry.

Unfortunately, the Goodrich plant workers in Spencer are not the only ones suffering. They are the tip of the iceberg in this post-terrorist economy. And as I walked through the Goodrich plant and talked with the employees, I became even more convicted of my job as a Congresswoman to vote to protect and strengthen West Virginia jobs.

This past week, Congress voted on trade legislation called Trade Promotion Authority, also know as "Fast Track." The plan, sponsored by the Republican leadership, would allow President Bush to negotiate trade agreements with other countries and take away Congress' ability to make any changes to the pact.

As I considered this plan to renew the President's trade promotion authority, I was left with one fundamental question: what vote would strengthen and keep the greatest number of jobs in West Virginia?

After listening to many of my constituents, it has become clear that this plan is not in the best interest of West Virginians, our jobs and our economy.

So, I voted against this plan because I believed that it would take away even more jobs from West Virginia. We've lost too many jobs already.

Now is the time to focus on helping the hard working men and women of West Virginia. The families of farmers, manufacturers and steel workers and many others have been hurt by trade policies of the past.

We need to ensure prosperous futures. I will continue to support increased trade in our nation, but not at the expense of jobs in West Virginia.

For the hard-working men and women of West Virginia, there is no need to take a look at the current economic statistics to know that times are tough. The faces of America's workers should remind us to be careful as we continue to make partnerships with other countries and other economies. These men and women provide the heart and soul of this economy, and it is our duty to protect their jobs, their livelihoods.

International trade directly affects the lives of many West Virginia families. And as we move into the 21st century and craft our national trade policies, we must never lose sight of the main goal, which is to keep West Virginians and Americans working.

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