Kenneth Janda, Instructor
Vote in the House on the China Trade Bill
Monday, May 22, 2000
Neither side claims to have enough votes
WASHINGTON - As a key vote set for this week drew near, neither side claimed Sunday to definitely have enough support to either pass or defeat the year's most contentious legislation: a bill granting China permanent normal trade relations with the United States.
Only one key player, who is also one of President Clinton's most improbable allies, said supporters have the momentum to win.
"It's really been tough to get the votes in on this, but we're doing real well," House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said. "We're moving towards that magic number of 218 votes" to pass the trade bill, he said on Fox News Sunday.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other supporters of the trade deal were more circumspect. "I think we're working very hard, and I don't want to say that we do" have the votes to pass it, Albright said on ABC's This Week.
In exchange for China's pledge to open further its markets to more U.S. goods, the legislation would end the annual congressional review of China's trading status. Those reviews have tied progress by China on human-rights issues to its right to the same low tariffs that the United States imposes on nearly all its trading partners. The bill would also speed the way for China to enter the World Trade Organization.
Most Republicans support the deal. Many in the president's own party oppose it, along with labor, environmental and human-rights groups. The House vote is expected at midweek. Senate passage, which would come sometime later, is nearly assured.
Clinton and other free-trade advocates say the deal would be good for U.S. businesses and could help lead China toward political and human-rights improvements. "The biggest issue is: What can we do to promote human rights? What can we do to promote the rule of law? What can we do to minimize the chances that there will be another war in Asia in our lifetime, or in our children's lifetime?" Clinton said Sunday during a strategy session for Democrats at the estate of Franklin Roosevelt in Hyde Park, N.Y.
He scheduled a television address on the subject for Sunday night, but he canceled it Friday after some Democrats told him it would be counterproductive.
Opponents say the trade deal threatens U.S. jobs and strips Washington of leverage to improve human rights in China and goad the Chinese to keep their international promises. The AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer, Richard Trumka, did not offer a tally of the bill's opponents, who include the top House Democrat, Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. Trumka did hint Sunday that labor might offer little political help to Democrats who support the trade deal. "This is a very, very serious issue with our membership, and I don't think anybody can tell you right now (what) is the political fallout from it," Trumka said on CBS' Face the Nation.
Business, labor pursue undecided lawmakers
WASHINGTON (AP) - In the days before a key China trade vote, the AFL-CIO assembled a ''cell phone drill team'' in front of Rep. Edward Markey's Massachusetts office. Intel Corp. used a more conventional lobbying technique, flooding Capitol Hill with 5,000 letters from employees.
Special interests are spending millions to sway undecided lawmakers before this week's House vote on permanent trade relations with China. ''It depends on how creative we can get,'' said Peggy Taylor, a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO.
The labor federation's member unions also pitched a tent in front of Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer's Alabama office and delivered checks emblazoned ''no blank check for China'' to the office Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Fla. She wound up endorsing the bill while Markey said he would vote no.
The millions of special interest money - $10 million by the Business Roundtable alone - have gone for airfare, postage, lobbyists' salaries, and even a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-published glossy brochure with small-business owners touting the benefits of China trade.
Business owners, union members, farmers, religious leaders and countless other advocates --even a busload of Tibetan activists -- have visited lawmakers in Washington and their home districts. The chamber has 20 full-time lobbyists just working on China this month.
So many people have gone through Rep. James Walsh's office, for example, that the New York Republican has decided not to meet with any more advocates, an aide said. For Walsh, the lobbying is as intense as any issue he has faced since being elected in 1988.
Other lawmakers are getting a steady stream of visits, phone calls and letters. ''It's been intense and passionate on both sides,'' acknowledged freshman Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who was visited by 40 Tibetan activists opposing China trade but has since decided to endorse the bill.
Business leaders argue that trade with China will help bring American political ideals, such as freedom, to that country.
Others insist that granting permanent normal trade relations to China -- rather than going through a yearly renewal -- will make it easier for the country to crack down on dissidents.
''Next year, they can arrest more bishops, torture evangelical pastors, rearrest all the dissidents and we can't do anything about it,'' said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.
A series of AFL-CIO ads that aired last month echoed those concerns about human rights. ''If you give China permanent trade status, and don't talk about it once a year ... they'll feel that they can do whatever they want, however they want,'' Chinese human rights activist Wei Jingsheng said in one ad.
Environmental and veterans' groups also oppose the legislation.
The business community, meanwhile, is taking to heart the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill's dictum that all politics is local. Trade groups are not sending their Washington lobbyists to lawmakers' offices alone but instead are bringing along representatives of local corporations.
''When a nation is your customer, you're less likely to treat them as an enemy,'' said R. Scott Miller, director of national government relations for Procter & Gamble, told Rep. John Cooksey, R-La. P&G employs 250 people in Alexandria, La., manufacturing Tide detergent.
Blaine Boswell, vice president of public affairs for Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries, which employs 4,400 people in Pennsylvania, told an aide to undecided Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., how the company's Chinese plants were helped to build a middle class overseas.
''We know that Chinese middle class really has a much broader view of the world and are looking to their political leadership for steady progress toward a more democratic society,'' Boswell said.
These face-to-face meetings are supplemented with visits back home, letters, phone calls, e-mails, op-eds in local papers and advertisements.
The agriculture industry and high-tech companies also are playing large roles in the lobbying effort. In one 48-hour period, Intel employees sent 5,000 computer-generated letters to lawmakers, urging them to support China trade.
''This is the biggest opportunity we have in the future of going from 0 to 60,'' said Michael Maibach, the company's vice president for government affairs, noting that China is the third-largest market for computer chips, personal computers, and cellular telephones.