In November, 1986, Lloyd Bentsen began his first news conference as chairman of the U.S. Senate finance committee with a surprise. Seven months earlier, the Texas senatorbusinessman had voted with nine other committee members against opening trade talks with Canada. But he presented a different attitude to reporters in the committee’s hearing room. Bentsen told them that he was urging the Reagan administration to put more effort into reaching a free trade deal with Canada. What is more, he announced plans for a factfinding visit to Ottawa to help speed up the then-stalled negotiations.
His dramatic 1986 change of heart reflected Bentsen’s mixed record on the free trade issue. Many observers say that his trip to Ottawa that De-
cember helped the negotiations between the two nations regain momentum. Bentsen himself last week said “that trip got this agreement going.” He has also kept talks rolling between Congress and the administration on the legislation to make the agreement into law. At the same time, he has raised objections to parts of the pact that are opposed by U.S. natural resources interests—a powerful lobby group in his home state. But Canadian officials generally approve of the senator’s overall performance. Said one: “He took the trouble to come to Canada and he has lived up to his commitments as chairman.”
Bentsen’s new role as Democratic vice-presidential candidate has revived the possibility that Congress might vote on the free trade legisla-
tion before its August recess. Last week, in what Bentsen called “a historic moment,” the Senate finance committee—followed quickly by the House ways and means committee— gave its approval to the free trade enabling-legislation. That cleared the way for the administration to introduce a complete legislative package to Congress. Said Paul Fekete, an analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Government Research Corp.: “The prospects for rapid movement on free trade are increased by Bentsen becoming a running mate. He’s going to want to clear the decks.” For the Conservative government in Ottawa, which is trying to push similar legislation through Parliament, Bentsen’s achievement of an early endorsement of the pact in Washington would be a welcome advance.
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