U.S. House to Vote on Russia Trade Bill if Democrats Support It, Majority Leader Says

Wikimedia CommonsU.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Thursday that the House of Representatives will take up a bill to normalize trade relations with Russia this fall, if the Democratic-majority Senate and President Barack Obama "commit to support" passage before the end of September.

The White House has called normalizing trade relations with Russia its top legislative trade priority this year. Republicans have complained that Obama has not done enough to whip up Democratic support for the effort.

A top House Democrat said the trade bill would have strong support when it is brought up for a vote.

"We must work together to get Russia PNTR (Permanent Normal Trade Relations) done so American businesses aren't disadvantaged," said Representative Steny Hoyer, the second ranking Democrat in the House. "I'm confident that when Republicans schedule the bill, it will pass the House with a strong majority."

Business groups hoped Congress would pass the legislation before Russia enters the World Trade Organization on Aug. 22, otherwise, they said, there is a risk that U.S. businesses and farmers will not share in all the market-opening concessions Russia made to join the world trade body.

But the U.S. Congress is taking a month-long recess during August.

Cantor said that when the House considers the Russia trade bill, it will include human rights provisions known as the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. Cantor also said the House would take up the measure under "suspension of the rules," meaning lawmakers could not amend it on the House floor.

"Upon our return from the August constituent work period, the House is prepared to take up under suspension of the rules a bill to extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to Russia, combined with the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, should the Senate and President commit to support passage before the end of September," Cantor's one-sentence statement said.

The Russia trade bill would repeal 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 pressure the former Soviet Union to allow Jews to emigrate.

But the effort to normalize trade ties has been stymied by the perception that doing so would help 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.

Advocates of the Magnitsky bill want that legislation included in the Russia trade bill so it can replace the Jackson-Vanik amendment as part of U.S. law on trade with Russia.

The Magnitsky legislation is named for an anti-corruption Russian lawyer who died in 2009 after a year in Russian jails. It calls for the United States to ban visas and freeze the assets of people believed responsible for Magnitsky's death, and would penalize other human rights abusers in Russia.

From the Web