* Business group includes Boeing, Microsoft, Ford
* White House sees Russia bill as top legislative priority
* Unions oppose move, hold letter-writing campaign
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, Aug 1 A U.S. business coalition on
Wednesday signaled it has given up hope that Congress would pass
critical legislation to upgrade trade ties with Russia before
that country enters the World Trade Organization on Aug. 22.
"Congress must pass PNTR (permanent normal trade relations)
as soon as possible after returning from recess in September, or
else risk putting U.S. businesses, workers and farmers at a
long-term disadvantage in this important market," the Coalition
for U.S.-Russia Trade said in a statement.
The group includes major business organizations such as the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of
Manufacturers and dozens of U.S. companies such as Boeing
, Ford, General Electric, International Paper
, Microsoft and General Motors, which hope
to capitalize on Russia's entry into the WTO.
Business leaders have been working for months to persuade
Congress to approve the PNTR legislation to ensure U.S.
companies share in all the market-opening concessions Russia
made to join the world trade body.
It would do that by repealing a mostly symbolic Cold War-era
restriction on trade between the two countries known as the
Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was passed in 1974 to put
pressure on the former Soviet Union to allow Jews to emigrate.
The effort has been burdened by the perception that
approving PNTR would be doing a favor for Russia, at a time when
many lawmakers are frustrated by Moscow's support for Syria and
Iran and question its commitment to democracy, human rights and
the rule of law.
But "by denying them PNTR, we're really denying American
companies, American workers an opportunity to sell more products
in Russia and have the benefit of all the rules that Russia will
have to comply with as a member of the WTO," U.S. Under
Secretary of State Robert Hormats told reporters on Tuesday.
"At a time when we need to be creating American jobs,
denying PNTR costs American jobs," Hormats said.
BOEHNER FAULTS WHITE HOUSE
The White House has called PNTR for Russia its top
legislative trade priority this year, but House Speaker John
Boehner last week said President Barack Obama had not done
enough to whip up Democratic support for the bill.
Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican, told
reporters on Wednesday that House Republicans would not schedule
action on the measure until two conditions are met: a firm date
for Senate action on the bill and a firm indication of how many
House Democrats will vote for the bill.
"We're going to need those two things to move PNTR this
week. We're going to need them to move it in September, and
we're going to need them to move it in a lame duck session,"
Brady said, referring to different possible time frames for
action on the bill.
"Lame duck" refers to the legislative session that takes
place after the November election and before new members of
Congress are seated in January.
"The sooner we get those two elements solidified, the
better," Brady said.
Both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate
Finance Committee have approved PNTR legislation by wide
But union groups, a key Democratic constituency, flooded
lawmakers last week with letters opposing the bill.
Brady said it was unclear how many Democrats in the House
supported the measure and that Republicans would not be able to
pass the bill on their own.
Meanwhile, Democrats accused House Republicans of trying to
shift responsibility for inaction on bill.
"Since when does House leadership take orders from Obama?
They are putting up strawmen as an excuse for why they're not
acting," a Democratic aide said.