GREENVILLE, S.C. - Textile magnate Roger Milliken is stirring opposition to legislation that would give President Bush new power to push trade deals through Congress.
The Trade Promotion Authority Act - when combined with current market forces - would spell even more trouble for the already wounded U.S. textile industry, Mr. Milliken said in an interview with The Greenville News on Tuesday.
"Congress, if allowed (time) to debate, would not approve the deal (Mr. Bush) wants to make, which is giving away more American jobs," said Mr. Milliken, the chairman and chief executive officer of Milliken & Co., a Spartanburg-based textile and chemical maker.
The 86-year-old avoids the public arena, but the leader of one of the nation's largest private businesses has been making presentations to U.S. House and Senate members and newspaper editorial boards.
He travels with author-economist Pat Choate, who was Ross Perot's running mate in the 1996 presidential campaign; author-economist Alan Tonelson; Charles McMillion, an economist and former editor of the Harvard Business Review; and Jock Nash, a political aide and Washington counsel for Milliken & Co.
The legislation allows limited consideration of trade agreements by Congress, prohibits amendments and shifts the requirement for enactment to a majority of the House and Senate instead of two-thirds Senate majority. Differing versions were passed by the House and Senate. The legislation is now in conference committee.
The act gives the president "a guarantee of passing that trade bill because it limits debate, prohibits amendments, and converts trade treaties to executive agreements that require only a (House and Senate) majority, instead of a two-thirds vote in the Senate," Mr. Nash said.
"With those three things in place, no executive agreement will ever fail, because even if the most God-awful trade agreement ever came down the pike, simply because you cannot generate grass-roots opposition in the compressed time frame it calls for," Mr. Nash said.
Mr. Milliken warned against trading away America's manufacturing capacity and best jobs through one-sided trade agreements with poor countries that can't buy American goods but can use their "penny labor" to cheaply produce goods that price U.S. companies out of the market.
U.S. Rep. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., voted in December to support Mr. Bush's plan, drawing the ire of Mr. Milliken.
Mr. DeMint says Mr. Milliken's position is "divisive" and out of step with most of the industry, keeping it from being "united so we can accomplish something."
"The whole point that (fast track) is going to hurt textiles is absurd because in the 10 years we haven't had it, textiles have about been driven out of business," he said. "Without this, textiles will be driven out of the country."