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Bayh threatens to block Bush's choice for USTR

topic posted Mon, April 18, 2005 - 9:56 AM by  Rob
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Democrat threatens to block Bush's choice for USTR

By Doug Palmer

Updated: 6:29 p.m. ET April 12, 2005

A U.S. Senate Democrat threatened Tuesday to block President Bush's choice for U.S. trade representative unless leaders allow a vote on a bipartisan bill aimed at slapping duties on subsidized imports from China.

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"I decided to take this step because I cannot sit idly by while American workers and companies continue to be victimized by foreign countries who violate our trade agreements with impunity," Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, said in a statement.

"Everyday American workers get up in the morning and already have one hand tied behind their backs because of illegal Chinese subsidies."

The threat came as new Commerce Department figures released Tuesday showed the U.S. trade deficit reached a record $61 billion in February, 33 percent higher than the same month last year. China accounts for about 25 percent of the overall U.S. trade shortfall.

Bush has nominated Rep. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, to be his chief trade negotiator. Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative during Bush's first term, is now deputy U.S. secretary of state. Senate rules allow senators to effectively block nominations by placing a "hold" on them.

Bayh wants Senate leaders to allow a vote on his Stopping Overseas Subsidies Act in exchange for dropping his hold on the nomination. He told reporters he was raising the issue now in the hopes it could be resolved before Portman's nomination reaches the Senate floor, possibly this month.

The bill offered by Bayh and Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, reserves a long-standing trade provision that has prevented the Commerce Department from imposing countervailing duties against "non-market economies" like China.

Manufacturers complain that leaves them unprotected against subsidized Chinese competition even though they are still free to bring anti-dumping cases against China.

Bayh accused congressional leaders and the Bush administration of indifference to the bill despite support from the National Association of Manufacturers and more than 50 lawmakers. Rep. Phil English, an Pennsylvania Republican, and Rep. Artur Davis, an Alabama Democrat, have introduced an identical bill in the House.

The Senate Finance Committee hopes to hold a hearing on Portman's nomination next week if the White House sends up the necessary paperwork in time, committee aides said.

There was no immediate comment from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's office on Bayh's demand for a vote on his bill.

A White House spokeswoman said the Bush administration would work with Congress to ensure Portman's confirmation.
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