Feb. 6, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

A ‘Who’s on First’ Blame Game on Stalled Russia Trade Bill

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
House Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin (Mich.) led Democrats in blaming Republicans for not passing a bill to normalize trade relations with Russia.

It’s a priority of President Barack Obama’s, supported by top lawmakers in the Republican-led House, was reported out of the Senate Finance Committee unanimously weeks ago, and is a major ask by the business lobby.

But when Congress left town last week, neither chamber had voted on a bill to normalize trade relations with Russia.

The omission is even more significant because Russia will be joining the World Trade Organization on Aug. 22. To comply with WTO rules, the United States must pass legislation normalizing its trade relations with Russia, creating an urgency to pass the bill.

Other, small-bore international items like extending the African Growth and Opportunity Act and import sanctions on Myanmar sailed through the House with ease. So who dropped the ball on permanent normal trade relations status for Russia?

Democrats, led by House Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin (Mich.), quickly pointed to the Republicans for blame, saying divisions in the GOP Conference prompted House leadership to delay the bill.

Now Republicans are hitting back, arguing the Obama administration has been relatively disengaged, that Democrats are unwilling to say what level of support they could provide for the vote and that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has ignored requests to schedule a vote in the Senate.

Republicans “need to be assured that you’ve got the votes in the House and that the Senate will promptly pick it up. And we’re going to need those two elements — whether we could have done it this week or done it in September or in November. The quicker we get those the better,” said Kevin Brady, chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade.

“We’ve asked publicly, privately and every other direction for Sen. Reid to schedule a vote in the Senate so that we have a path forward,” the Texas Republican said.

Despite privately signaling the bill is a major administration priority, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has been relatively disengaged, Brady said.

“There’s nothing coordinated that I’m aware of,” he said. “Like most trade issues, this is a Cabinet-level effort. All hands on deck. Commerce, USTR, Defense, others. At least if we’re going to have strong bipartisan support in the House. And that’s not been the case.”

Democrats find the charges as convenient excuse-making to cover for an embarrassing failure.

“It’s Republicans’ job to get the bill through the House,” a Democratic aide said.

On Democratic support, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer predicted in a statement to Roll Call that the bill would pass with a “strong majority.”

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