Congress may be in recess, but business groups have been busy pushing one of their top legislative priorities this year: approving permanent normalized trade relations, or PNTR, with Russia
Russia entered the World Trade Organization on Aug. 22, but because it lacks permanent normalized trade with Russia, the United States can't benefit from reduced tariffs the way other member countries can.
In the midst of the Democratic National Convention, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted an event at its D.C. headquarters on Thursday, featuring Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who has served as an ambassador to Russia.
The chamber wouldn't say how much it's spent, saying only it's "a significant sum," running numerous ads during recess, and using its state and regional offices to reach out to "dozens and dozens" of members, Christopher Wenk, the group's senior director of international policy, told the Alley. In particular, the chamber has been meeting with both parties' leaders, committee chairs and rank-and-file members in their home districts.
The U.S.-Russia Business Council, which is a coalition of groups that includes the chamber and the Business Roundtable, has spent $160,000 on lobbying on PNTR during the first half of 2012, according to lobbying disclosure forms.
The chamber, along with the roundtable, pushed the issue particularly hard in the rush before recess. But PNTR didn't come to the floor, even after it passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee and a similar bill made it out of the Senate Finance Committee.
As many members left Washington for the recess, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor announced the House would take up the bill upon returning "should the Senate and president commit to support passage before the end of September." He echoed a similar sentiment expressed by House Speaker John Boehner, who had said they would take up PNTR if President Barack Obama made a move on it. He seemed to be trying to force the president to take on unions, who have publicly opposed PNTR.
But even though Republican leadership didn't bring the bill forward, business groups were hesitant to criticize leadership.
"We were very pleased by the Cantor statement," Wenk said. "There has been a lot of discussion that's happened over the recess between the White House and key offices."
Despite the short amount of time Congress will be back in session, Wenk said the group is optimistic that a vote will come during the September work period.
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