Clinton signing of China trade bill may be delayed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Clinton hoped to sign landmark legislation granting permanent normal trade relations to China at a White House ceremony Thursday. But Republican leaders in Congress are saying, not so fast.
Even though it was approved overwhelmingly by the Senate in a final vote last month, leaders in the House and Senate have yet to send the trade bill to Clinton, and aides said they may hold onto it, possibly until Congress adjourns later this month.
"It's going to get to the president," said John Czwartacki, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. "It's not a matter of if. It's a matter of when."
But Czwartacki said he doubted Clinton would receive the trade bill this week, as the White House had hoped.
"Congress doesn't schedule its constitutional duties around a hole in the president's schedule," he added.
Approved by the Senate in September and the House of Representatives in May, the trade bill will end the 20-year-old annual ritual of reviewing China's trade status and guarantee Chinese goods the same low-tariff access to the U.S. market as products from nearly every other nation.
In exchange for the benefits, China agreed to open a wide range of markets from agriculture to telecommunications under the terms of an agreement aimed at clearing the way for Beijing to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Enactment of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) for China was one of Clinton's top legislative priorities for his final year in office.
The White House argued that it would bolster the U.S. economy by opening the vast Chinese marketplace, and benefit national security as Beijing opens to the West.
Administration officials initially hoped Clinton would sign the bill into law last Thursday. When that fell through, they moved the ceremony to this Thursday, but now concede it may get put off again.
Czwartacki said Senate President Pro Tempore Strom Thurmond and House Speaker Dennis Hastert had yet to sign the "enrollment" papers to transmit the bill.
Thurmond of South Carolina, the oldest and longest-serving senator, was hospitalized over the weekend.
Czwartacki said the Senate was also busy with "other business," including key spending bills to fund the federal government.
"PNTR becoming law is a foregone conclusion," he said. "We've got issues, whose outcomes are still to be determined, to worry about."
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