While it’s far from clear whether the business community will come out on top in the fiscal cliff negotiations, it did score a win today on a Russia trade bill, approved 365-43 in the House.
K Street has been arguing that American businesses have been missing out on the reduced tariffs that came with Russia’s Aug. 22 entrance in the World Trade Organization. The House bill, the result of compromise, lifts Cold War-era restrictions while also requiring the Administration to freeze assets and deny visas to certain Russian human rights violators.
The Business Roundtable, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Foreign Trade Council and others have been lobbying hard to push a House vote on Russia PNTR, and are now urging the Senate to move on it during the lame duck.
The U.S.-Russia Business Council, a coalition of groups that includes the Chamber and BRT, spent $460,000 on Russia PNTR lobbying through Oct. 31, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.
“The Chamber applauds the House for today’s strong vote to help American workers, farmers, and companies sell their products in the booming Russian market,” Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue said in a statement, echoing similar statements released by other business groups. “This is a jobs bill that won’t cost the taxpayer a penny, and we urge the Senate to approve it as soon as possible.”
Leaders from both sides of the aisle, from Majority Leader Eric Cantor to Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, released statements praising the act’s passage. And the broad bipartisan support of the final bills signals that it may not face much of a battle in the Senate.
House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, who has long been pushing for passage, told the Alley that including the human rights “Magnitsky” provision was “the right thing to do,” but “we had strong support even without it. I thought we could do it before the election.”
“I just think that forcing [Russia] to live with a rules-based trading system is going to create a scenario that creates a potential to undermine the kind of political oppression that exists there,” he said.
While there wasn’t much outright partisan bickering over the bill before the election, when asked, House Republicans – who control the floor – had cast blame on President Obama for not getting engaged enough on the bill. (The Obama administration had told the Alley that Russia PNTR was its top trade priority).
There was some union opposition to the bill. It also appeared that perhaps Republican leadership didn’t want to give the Obama administration a legislative win before the election.
Russian officials have expressed displeasure with the bill’s passage, given the human rights provision. Interfax news agency reported Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday before the House vote that he vowed a “tough” response that will “not necessarily be symmetrical."