Senators To Comb China Trade Bill
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Clinton administration-backed bill to expand trade with China ran into problems in the Senate on Thursday, a day after it won solid approval in the House.
Opponents from both the political right and left served notice they would use potentially time-consuming tactics to hold the bill up to scrutiny and amendment.
``I want to make sure there are votes to deal with serious human rights questions, the rights of workers to organize, trade compliance,″ said Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn. ``It’s something that I can do and should do and I’ll be out there. I don’t intend to be shut out.″
Wellstone was expected to team up with Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., in pushing a raft of labor-supported amendments. Organized labor has waged a fierce campaign against the bill, which it sees as a threat to U.S. workers’ jobs.
From the other end of the political spectrum, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., pledged not to let the Senate ``rubber stamp″ the House-passed measure and advised China-trade supporters to hold off on ``popping the champagne corks.″
Helms promised ``votes _ perhaps uncomfortable votes _ on a range of issues.″
Sens. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., announced Thursday that they, too, would seek to modify the China trade bill. They want to set up a mechanism to monitor Chinese weapons proliferation.
Still others were expected to try to attach a provision to increase U.S. military ties with Taiwan.
Because of the exhaustive battle that led up to Wednesday’s 237-197 vote in the House, neither side paid much attention to the Senate _ until now.
The bill is ultimately expected to win overwhelming support in the Senate, where the Finance Committee has approved it 18-1.
But hopes by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., for a ``clean″ bill _ one without amendments like the one that passed the Finance Committee _ were complicated by House-added amendments, including one to establish a commission to monitor human rights in China.
The House also adopted amendments to protect U.S. companies against surges in Chinese imports and to increase funds for Radio Free Asia.
Lott called the House amendments ``substantial″ and said, ``We’ll have to decide how to deal with their add-ons.″
Since the additional language goes beyond trade issues, other committee chairmen might seek to assert jurisdiction, including Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Time could be an important factor, with the summer political convention and campaign season fast approaching.
More immediately, a lengthy delay in the Senate could cause the administration to have to revert to the old practice of extending China’s trade benefits on an annual basis _ the exact process the permanent normal trade relations bill would end. The necessary paperwork for such an annual renewal was being prepared as a backup, administration officials said. President Clinton would send it to Congress next week, if necessary.
The old law, followed for the past 20 years, calls for the president to certify China’s eligibility for trade benefits by June 3 each year. Congress has until the end of August to block it.
If the Senate makes any changes to the House-passed bill, a House-Senate conference committee would have to resolve the differences, followed by new votes in both chambers on the finished product. All that is potentially time-consuming.
Commerce Secretary Richard Daley visited Lott and key senators on trade issues Thursday to map strategy for moving the legislation in the Senate.
Supporters had hoped to build on momentum from Wednesday’s larger-than-expected House vote.
But with the Senate about to begin a weeklong Memorial Day recess and with the flurry of proposed amendments, it could be weeks before a Senate vote.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the senior Democrat on Helms’ committee, said he hopes Helms and other opponents will not attempt to slow or block the measure but added, ``Anything’s possible in this place.″
Biden said he believes the measure will pass and that it is widely supported in the Senate. Still, he said, ``This is not an easy vote for Democrats.″
The bills are H.R. 4444 and S. 2277
On the Net: White House site: http://www.chinapntr.gov
AFL-CIO site: http://www.aflcio.org/publ/press2000/pr0222.htm