Feb. 11, 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.

“We must work together to get Russia PNTR done so American businesses aren’t disadvantaged. I’m confident that when Republicans schedule the bill, it will pass the House with a strong majority,” the Maryland Democrat said.

The Senate Finance Committee unanimously reported the bill July 18, combining a provision normalizing trade relations with a human rights bill that would sanction Russians responsible for the death of corruption whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp supports the Magnitsky bill but had been pushing for a “clean” PNTR bill that didn’t include it. After the Senate Finance Committee reported its bill, Camp said he would like to move on the issue but didn’t have a Democratic partner.

“I intend to have a bill introduced in the next few days and look forward to moving this important jobs bill through the committee on a bipartisan basis as soon as possible. I continue to work with the White House to find a Democratic cosponsor,” the Michigan Republican said.

The next day, July 19, the Wall Street Journal editorial page criticized Camp for stalling, saying House Republicans were hurting U.S. businesses and helping Russian President Vladimir Putin.

That morning, Camp called Levin, conceding ground on combining the Magnitsky provisions. Camp wouldn’t include it in the legislation reported by Ways and Means, as it was outside his committee’s jurisdiction, but he would support adding it at the Rules Committee.

On July 26, the Ways and Means Committee reported out the bill by voice vote, with one Democrat, Rep. Bill Pascrell (N.J.) opposed.

But Speaker John Boehner quickly said it was unlikely the bill would get a vote before the recess.

Democrats suspect Boehner didn’t want to distract from messaging on taxes, but the Ohio Republican put the onus on the president for moving the bill forward.

“If the president really thinks this is an important issue that we have to deal with, then maybe he ought to be out there making the case for it,” Boehner said later on July 26.

Then on Monday of the last week before the recess, organized labor objected to the legislation, with the United Steelworkers and the Communications Workers of America sending a letter to Members criticizing the bill.

Labor’s opposition softened Democratic support, worrying Republican supporters and eliminating the suspension calendar as an option for the bill, GOP aides say, which made it unlikely to fit in the last week before recess.

And the sniping has continued ever since.

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