06/24/12 01:26 PM ET
Business groups say they feel encouraged that Congress will approve Russian trade legislation before the August recess.
The groups said the Obama administration will have to work quickly to bridge their differences to pass the legislation, but the groups expressed confidence it would get done.
“A lot of progress was made this week,” said David Thomas, vice president for trade policy, with the Business Roundtable.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill along with trade officials are trying to balance the passage of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) for Russia with a push by a broad coalition of lawmakers to link the measure with human rights legislation. The latter bill would withhold visas for Russian officials accused of human rights violations.
Hearings at the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees this week revealed the gap between lawmakers and the White House, which opposes the linkage and finds itself in an unlikely partnership with Capitol Hill Republicans.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and House Republicans are calling for lawmakers to pass a clean repeal of the Jackson-Vanik provision, which would grant Russia permanent normal trade relations.
But it increasingly looks the two measures will be coupled in some way — at least informally — to ensure approval.
Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), who has supported a clean bill, said earlier this week that linking the two may be necessary to win passage. A Senate bill combining the two, he said, would be progress.
“I would prefer them not to be linked myself, but clearly at the end of the day if the will of the House and the Senate is to pass the Magnitsky bill, then it will be necessary,” he said.
Still, Brady has called passage of the trade bill a “heavy lift.”
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday that there is an ongoing “constructive dialogue” with lawmakers and that the administration's concerns are being considered. Many took his words as encouragement.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), author of the human rights bill, also acknowledged that talks were progressing with administration officials.
“I can eventually see them acquiescing to some type of link, preferably, from their standpoint, an implicit one between the two bills,” said Ed Gerwin, senior fellow for trade and global economic policy, Third Way.
The National Foreign Trade Council has criticized the human rights bill named after Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who died while in police custory.
NFTC President Bill Reinsch said his group doesn't have much objection to linking the trade legislation with Magnitsky, but they want a narrowly focused human rights bill targeting abuses in Russia.
“Linking them guarantees that at least the good part passes as well as the bad,” Reisch told The Hill. He said his group would prefer that the trade bill be approved first, but if the two bills are linked “there is a level of comfort that both will happen.”
Russia has warned the Magnitsky bill would harm U.S.-Russia relations.
On Friday, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro urged Russia not to retaliate over the legislation.
“I’ve heard from several Russian counterparts their concern about the Magnitsky legislation,” she said in an interview in St. Petersburg, according to news reports.
“I certainly hope that if Magnitsky were to pass, that there would not be such measures.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the legislation earlier this month, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote Tuesday.