WASHINGTON (AP) â€” House supporters of a measure to normalize trade relations with China won a crucial test vote today and appeared headed toward victory for a measure that would end 20 years of annual congressional reviews of China's trade status with the United States.
The House voted 294-136 against an effort by opponents to keep the measure from coming to a final vote later in the day.
Looking to House passage of the measure to grant China permanent normal trade status with the United States, Republicans said they had obtained at least 150 votes for the pact, the goal they had set for themselves, according to GOP sources speaking on condition of anonymity. And Democratic opponents of the measure conceded privately that they expected to lose at least 69 of their members. If those totals hold, it would assure passage in the 435-member House.
Even as he closed in on victory, President Clinton was leaving nothing to chance, clearing his schedule to make a flurry of last-minute calls to wavering lawmakers, presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters.
The House began discussing a critical test vote to set the terms of debate for the legislation that would grant China permanent normal trade relations, ending two decades of annual congressional reviews.
``I think we're going to make this PNTR vote for China,'' Clinton told reporters late Tuesday night after a day in which supporters had picked up a number of undecided votes.
Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., who is chairman of the House Rules Committee, said negotiators had cleared away the last hurdles to a floor vote today with the inclusion of language sought by Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., to specifically list human rights protections that a watchdog commission would examine each year.
``We are going to win tomorrow. I am convinced we are on track for victory,'' Dreier said.
The bill would extend permanent normal trade relations to China, guaranteeing China the same low-tariff access to U.S. markets that nearly every other country in the world has.
For the past 20 years, China has received this benefit, but only after an annual congressional vote, which gave opponents a platform to attack China's record on a host of issues from human rights to religious freedom.
In return for U.S. support for China's bid to join the World Trade Organization, China has offered to lower high trade barriers that American manufacturers and farmers have complained are costing them billions of dollars in lost sales annually.
American corporations have spent millions of dollars lobbying on behalf of the China trade bill but they faced determined opposition from organized labor, which believes normalizing trade relations will result in the movement of more high-paying U.S. manufacturing jobs to China.
In a last-ditch effort to sidetrack the legislation, opponents were considering offering an amendment to tie the trade benefits to Taiwan's security as a way to gain conservative GOP votes.
But supporters claimed momentum was on their side following the pickup of a number of fence-sitters Tuesday as the Clinton administration conducted its own version of ``Lets Make a Deal'' to offer inducements to wavering lawmakers.
Among those announcing in favor of the proposal Tuesday was Rep. Martin Frost, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, and four other members of the Texas delegation.
Frost said he would vote yes after the administration provided assurances of financial support being sought by Northrop Grumman to keep its defense plant in Grand Prairie, Texas.
In an effort to gain support from black and Hispanic Democrats representing poor districts, the administration reached an agreement with Republicans on a package of tax breaks aimed at helping distressed rural and urban areas. Clinton and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., announced the deal at the White House on Tuesday.
Hoping to pick up votes of lawmakers from tobacco states, the administration also announced that China had agreed to drop an 11-year ban on the importation of U.S. tobacco.
At the start of House debate, supporters argued that the world's biggest economy had to remain engaged with the fast-growing Chinese market.
``Over 1 billion people will not be ignored in the international marketplace,'' said the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas.
But opponents argued that granting China normal trade relations with the United States would only worsen America's trade deficit with that country, which hit a record $68 billion last year.
The bills are H.R. 4444 and S. 2277
On the Net: White House site: http://www.chinapntr.gov
AFL-CIO site: http://www.aflcio.org/publ/press2000/pr0222.htm