WASHINGTON — The House last week overwhelmingly approved lifting Cold War-era trade restrictions with Russia now that it has joined the World Trade Organization.
Russia, which has 142 million consumers, joined the WTO in August and must now play by the same trade rules as other WTO members, including the United States.
The U.S. cannot take advantage of lowered tariffs and other trade-easing provisions that come with WTO membership until it grants Russia permanent normal trade relations.
Proponents claimed that exports to Russia would more than double over the next five years with the change in status. U.S. businesses exported $11 billion to Russia last year.
The bill, which was approved 365-43, gained unusually high support for a trade bill because it included strong human rights provisions. The bill would freeze assets and ban visas for Russian officials who engage in corruption and gross violations of human rights.
Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., said he would have opposed the trade bill but for those provisions.
The measures, he said, send a “clear message to the Russian people that we support their fundamental human rights.”
The Senate is expected to take up the bill before the end of the year.
Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, Mike Ross, D-Prescott, and Steve Womack, R-Rogers, voted for the bill.
Senate again scuttles cybersecurity bill
Cybersecurity legislation that was supported by the White House was blocked in the Senate last week on a procedural vote.
Republicans largely stood in the way of fast tracking the bill, saying they wanted more opportunities for amendments. The bill had been blocked on a similar procedural motion in August.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent who sponsored the bill, said the Senate had been given a second chance to raise defenses against those who would steal industrial secrets or, worse yet, sabotage critical infrastructure.
“That is what this bill is about, creating standards for public-private cooperation to raise our defenses against cyber attack or cyber theft,” he said.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said there is no debate over the need to enhance cybersecurity. But, he said, there are major problems with the bill such as having the Department of Homeland Security in charge.
“I am baffled why the Senate would take an agency that has proven problems with overseeing critical infrastructure and give them chief responsibility for our country’s cybersecurity,” Grassley said.
In the absence of legislation, President Obama is expected to issue an executive order that would set cybersecurity standards for power plants, banks, telecommunications and other critical infrastructure.
The Senate voted 51-47 to proceed with the bill, falling nine votes shy of the 60-vote majority required. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., voted against it.