World and Nation

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GOP Shift Is Seen to Secure Three Trade Deals

When the Democrats swept to victory last fall, after a campaign fueled partly by attacks on President Bush’s trade policies, trade deals promoted by the administration seemed doomed in the new Congress. But that was then.

In the last week, the administration and its Republican allies on Capitol Hill have signaled a new willingness to work with Democrats to try to secure their support for three pending trade deals — with Panama, Peru and Colombia. The focus of their talks has been guarantees for the rights of workers in countries with which the U.S. has negotiated trade accords, including a ban on child labor.

“There’s no question that there’s been a change on the Republican side,” Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said Monday. “They refused to talk about these things before, and now they’re talking.”

But it is still not clear how Democrats will respond. Rangel said they remained highly skeptical about signs of Republican flexibility on trade and that he had not seen anything “acceptable to a broad number of members” on his side.

Alaskan Bridge Projects Resist Pork-Barrel Purge

Long after Congress removed about $450 million in budget earmarks for two bridges in the Alaskan exurbs, the fight over whether to build them is not dead.

Mocked as “bridges to nowhere” by critics who saw them as the epitome of congressional excess, the projects have been slowly moving forward even as big questions remain about whether the bridges will be built.

When Congress removed the earmarks for the bridges in 2005, it still gave the state the money, but it allowed Alaskan officials to decide how to spend it. The state reserved about $200 million for the proposed bridges, far less than the construction costs but enough to show that there was serious intent to complete the projects. Some environmental and planning studies have already been conducted.

Supporters of one of the bridges, the Knik Arm Crossing, are expected to get the proposal included in Anchorage’s long-range city transportation plan in April.

The agency charged with building the bridge, a private-public partnership, is courting private investors for a toll-driven, for-profit venture. If built, the Knik bridge — which has been discussed since before statehood in 1959 — could cost about $1 billion beyond the approximately $110 million the project has received from Congress.