China Trade Bill Passes House

By Bruce Sullivan | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

Washington ( - After two efforts by opponents to delay the vote on granting permanent normal trade relations with China, the US House passed the measure Wednesday evening by a comfortable margin of 237-197.

Led by a rare bipartisan coalition of leading House figures, including Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX), and Ranking Minority Ways and Means Committee Member Charlie Rangel (D-NY), proponents of PNTR argued that it will increase economic development in the U.S., while furthering human rights in China.

"Granting PNTR may not be the best way to improve human rights in China," said Armey. "It may be the only way."

Opponents of PNTR said requiring China to apply annually for normal trade status, which gives it the same low-tariff privileges enjoyed with the U.S. by virtually every other nation, encouraged China to improve human rights. Also, labor unions opposed PNTR, saying that without the possibility of sanctions, China could dump cheap Chinese goods on the American market.

Supporters of PNTR, conservative and liberal alike, agreed with Armey that the best way to ensure political and social progress in China is to engage the communist nation in trade.

"Instead of using negative leverage, we will now have positive leverage," said Ann Scuffham, a summer intern with the conservative Leadership Institute showing up at the US Capitol Wednesday to show support for PNTR.

"Let China move more towards capitalism," said Scuffham's fellow intern, Heidi Sparks, who was also outside the Capitol. "It will speed up freedom."

House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA) said granting PNTR to China, which will lead to its admission to the World Trade Organization later this year, will help China become a member of the world community.

"China will finally have to play by the rules," said Dreier.

Reacting to the vote from Austin, Texas Governor and presumptive Republican presidential nominee George W Bush said, "I want to congratulate members of the House of Representatives in both parties who cast their votes in favor of permanent normal trade relations with China. Passage of this legislation will mean a stronger American economy, as well as more opportunity for liberty and freedom in China."