- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Business and labor are locked in the biggest battle in six years over expanded commercial ties with China, and are poised to set a new standard for the intensity of lobbying campaigns on trade issues in the next 10 days.
As the House heads toward a vote next week, both sides are using every trick in the book and making up a few more as they go to win the allegiance of the small group of members who can make or break permanent normal trade relations (NTR) for China.
"There has been nothing like this since NAFTA in 1994," said Christopher Padilla, a spokesman for the Business Coalition for U.S.-China Trade, in a reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement. "It is going to be hand-to-hand combat for the last few votes."
Those last few votes the truly undecided members now number no more than 20, according to vote counters on both sides. But neither side has clear momentum and the vote is still too close to call.
"No question, it will come down to the wire," said Commerce Secretary William M. Daley.
Mr. Padilla's group, the umbrella organization for corporate America's campaign, is planning this week to distribute to all 435 members of the House "gift baskets" that include samples of products U.S. firms would be able to sell in China if NTR passes.
But baskets of Kodak film and citrus fruit tell only the whimsical side of efforts to pass NTR for China. More important will be the hundreds of meetings with undecided members and their staffs, the visits by chief executive officers, the thousands of letters from employees and the roughly $5 million in paid media, lobbyists said.
Business groups hope their campaign will lay the groundwork for the Clinton administration to methodically pick off the remaining undecided Democrats.
U.S. labor unions, the most ardent foes of permanent NTR for China, are relying on grass-roots organizing to remind undecided Democrats they face elections without the enthusiastic support of the rank and file if they support NTR for China.
"This bell will toll well into November," said Bill Kleinfelter, a top lobbyist for the United Steelworkers of America. "And we're going to see over the next two weeks for whom the bell tolls."
In addition to the tens of thousands of letters, the unions are employing tactics honed over decades of organizing workers. Candlelight vigils in districts of undecided members, coordinated phone call campaigns to Washington offices and face-to-face contact with union leaders are designed to help undecided members resist the enormous pressure that the White House and business will bring to bear.
Tomorrow, pro-NTR forces will face their first test when the Ways and Means Committee meets to mark up legislation abolishing the current annual renewal of China's NTR status. Republican votes will provide a comfortable margin of victory, House aides said. But NTR supporters hope to win over key Democrats who could persuade others to follow them when the full House votes next week.
Support from Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, the senior Democrat on the panel, could pave the way for votes from other members of the Black Caucus. Rep. Xavier Becerra, California Democrat, could help other Hispanic lawmakers take the plunge in support of NTR.
Union leaders were working yesterday to stave off these potentially decisive defections, labor officials said.
At the heart of the furious lobbying over the next 10 days is the extreme fluidity of the situation, according to sources on both sides. Neither side has gained decisive momentum, so the NTR battle has come to resemble a closely contested election in which even the most innocent gaffe could decide the race.
"You absolutely have to be there to counter the other side down to the very last moment," said Calman Cohen, president of the Emergency Committee for American Trade (ECAT), a pro-NTR business group.
At a standing-room-only meeting with pro-NTR lawmakers late last week, lobbyists volunteered for visits to undecided Democrats and Republicans, even though members have all the information they need to make informed decisions on NTR. But since undecided members never fail to mention the number of visits from organized labor, business lobbyists say they feel obliged to outgun their competitors, even though the visits bring nothing substantively new to the debate.
"At this point, the visits are all about politics," said Dave Calabrese of the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA).
And the visits are numerous. Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will showcase roughly 25 small business owners who will lobby their members of Congress in favor of NTR. CEOs from major multinationals like Boeing and Caterpillar likely will swoop in as well. And business leaders are asking their employees to weigh in with undecided members as well.
ECAT is running television commercials aimed at 25 or so swing districts and in Washington. EIA has taken out radio ads recorded by real high-tech workers in 10 districts, and many individual companies, such as Motorola, are running their own ads.
Labor is keeping the pressure on undecided members at the grass roots. Yesterday, workers held a rally at the district office of Rep. Karen L. Thurman of Florida, another undecided Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. Steelworkers, who have flooded Congress with more than 200,000 letters, yesterday pitched a tent outside Rep. Robert E. "Bud" Cramer's office, vowing to stay there until the Alabama Democrat opposes NTR.

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