Final Push for China Trade Bill

Monday, July 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Corporate executives are knocking on the doors of all 100 senators. Other business leaders, with a few clicks of a mouse, are e-mailing their lawmakers.

It's all part of a last-minute effort to prod the Senate into quickly passing legislation granting China permanent normal trade status. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said he planned to bring up the bill before the end of the month.

Both sides in the debate agree that there are enough votes to pass the legislation once it reaches the Senate floor. The business community wants the bill free of amendments, thus eliminating the need to send it back to the House.

``It's a huge gamble to predict they can get this legislation passed again,'' Business Roundtable spokeswoman Johanna Schneider said.

Corporations are making their presence known with campaign donations as well. In May, as the House voted to pass the trade bill, members of the Business Roundtable contributed $805,000 to the fund-raising arms of the Senate Democrats and Republicans. Unions gave $70,000.

While the AFL-CIO, which led the campaign against the bill in the House, has little activity planned, the business lobbying effort is focused on moving the bill quickly, before Congress recesses at the end of the month for the national political conventions.

``We can't let it run up against the conventions,'' Chamber President Tom Donohue said. ``Then it becomes a political issue. And we believe it is best to move quickly because there are world events going on all the time that could end up slowing it down.''

Meanwhile, pro-trade businesses continue to pour money into political campaigns. Since Jan. 1, 1999, the corporations whose chief executives comprise the Business Roundtable have made $58 million in contributions to congressional candidates and the political parties, while labor unions have contributed $29 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics and FECInfo, two nonpartisan groups that study money and campaigns.

The donations proved to be an accurate barometer of how House members voted when they approved normal trade relations by a 237-197 margin.

Of the 10 lawmakers who received the most money from members of the Business Roundtable since Jan. 1, 1999, all voted for the motion. Of the 10 lawmakers who received the most money from labor, nine voted no. The only exception was Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, the only lawmaker to be among the top 10 recipients of both union and business donations.

``It's another example of the way money influences policy in Washington,'' said Donald Simon, general counsel of Common Cause, a group that advocates changing campaign finance laws. ``In vote after vote, you see a strong correlation between contributions and the votes of members. This isn't a coincidence.''

Business Roundtable spokesman John Schachter said the group, which is nonpartisan, hasn't made any contributions nor asked its members to do so. The companies make their own decisions on whether to make campaign contributions, he said.

The chamber has ratcheted up its campaign contributions. Since Jan. 1, 1999, the chamber gave more unregulated soft money to the political parties — $102,350 — than it did during the entire 24-month period from Jan. 1, 1997, to Dec. 31, 1998.

``If you truly want to be an aggressive and active player in Washington, you need to be there to support your friends,'' chamber spokesman Frank Coleman said.

On the other side of the issue, normally pro-labor House members who voted for China trade may find less enthusiasm among union members, AFL-CIO Political Director Steve Rosenthal said.

``The money that unions bring to the table is insignificant to what the corporations bring,'' Rosenthal said. ``Our biggest contribution is our ability to mobilize union members. This vote has made that piece of our work that much harder.''


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