The Senate should act responsibly and approve a China trade bill quickly.
After the protracted House debate on trade, senators were expected to deal easily with the issue. There appeared to be no doubt that senators – more experienced in foreign policy – would overwhelmingly recognize the value of normalizing trade relations with the world’s most populous nation.
Unfortunately, the Senate now seems on the verge of pointless hesitation or even a serious attempt to re-write the House’s legislation. The Senate Republican leadership has indicated that the trade vote might be delayed until September. That would create potential for additional delay or perhaps even defeat of the legislation amid election-year politicking.
Two senators are trying to persuade colleagues to address weapons proliferation issues in the trade bill. Republican Fred Thompson and Democrat Robert Toricelli want to attach a provision that would impose trade sanctions if China is found to be aiding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Tying foreign policy and trade is always problematic. In this case, the senators would hobble any administration’s ability to deal with an important power. Even with a trend toward congressional meddling in presidential responsibility, the Thompson-Toricelli approach would break new and dangerous ground. Presidents must remain able to address national security issues without such legislative interference.
There is every reason to hope that U.S. security will improve through having China more firmly a part of the world trading system. It can only promote peace to have Chinese prosperity increasingly linked to normal relations with other nations. The trade agreement, moreover, requires China to tear down legal barriers that have unfairly limited opportunities for U.S. companies and the products built by American workers. Congressional inaction would mean that Americans would lose out on fairer access to China, even while other nations reap the benefits.
The Senate has a generally distinguished history of handling trade and foreign policy issues reasonably. For all the rhetoric surrounding trade with China, the questions are not complex. The Senate has a responsibility to promote trade and security, without drawing out the issue for months.
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