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Biz Groups Quiet on Congress' Failure to Pass Russian PNTR Biz Groups Quiet on Congress' Failure to Pass Russian PNTR

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Biz Groups Quiet on Congress' Failure to Pass Russian PNTR


Bill Miller, National Political Director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, owner of Georgetown restaurant Hook(Liz Lynch)

K Street's silence on Congress' failure to pass normalized Russian trade relations before the August recess is pretty deafening. 

Business groups such as the Business Roundtable were making all sorts of noise trying to get a bill passed before Aug. 22, when Russia joins the World Trade Organization. Businesses care because when Russia joins the WTO later this month, the United States will not have permanent normalized trade relations with a member country -- a violation of WTO rules. And that means the U.S. can't benefit from reduced Russian tariffs.

But now that the Congress has gone home without passing a bill, the interests groups are largely quiet, keeping any frustrations to themselves. 

Asked Friday how the BRT felt about seeing one of their top legislative priorities left undone,   BRT spokeswoman Amanda DeBard said the group couldn't provide a response. 

After Congress left town with PNTR still hanging, BRT senior vice president Bill Miller put out a statement saying: "BRT has aggressively pushed for passage of Russia PNTR so our businesses and workers can benefit from exporting to the world's ninth-largest economy."

No blame being cast there.  

And that's not surprising considering that House leaders have signaled a willingness to take up a bill when Congress returns in September. 

About 6 p.m. on Thursday, as many House members fled the Capitol for the airport to start the August recess, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's office released this statement:

"Upon our return from the August constituent work period, the House is prepared to take up under suspension of the rules a bill to extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to Russia, combined with the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, should the Senate and president commit to support passage before the end of September."

Most of the opposition to the bill comes from unions, and Republican leadership seems keen to force President Obama and Senate Democrats to publicly support the legislation. A week before recess, House Speaker John Boehner said, "If the president really thinks this is an important issue that we ought to deal with, then maybe he ought to be out there making the case for it. I haven't seen that as yet."

But despite the public goading, Republicans privately acknowledge that President Obama is unlikely to get vocal and risk angering labor unions on a bill he knows the GOP will support and pass. The move was largely an attempt to distract from the fact that Republicans weren't able to get a bill passed before recess. 

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