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US Lawmakers Race to Wrap Up Legislation, Including Vietnam Trade Bill


Legislation to establish permanent U.S. normal trade relations [PNTR] with Vietnam is nearing consideration again in the U.S. Congress, and could win final approval before lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, the Vietnam bill has been a major priority on the Bush administration's trade agenda, and lawmakers are racing to conclude other important foreign and domestic measures.

The last time the Vietnam legislation came to the floor in the House of Representatives it received a majority of votes, but not the two-thirds margin required under a method Republicans used for consideration.

That was an embarrassment for President Bush who was on his way to an economic summit in Hanoi, where he hoped to be able to cite the achievement in his talks with Asian leaders.

Running out of time before the House and Senate end their 109th session, Republicans are trying again, facing the worrying possibility that the legislation could be delayed until it could be brought up again next year in a new Democratic-controlled Congress.

Approval would put Vietnam in a category of nations exempted from annual trade reviews based on human rights and other grounds.

However, there has been opposition from lawmakers representing textile-manufacturing states concerned about competition from cheap imports.

And many lawmakers say Vietnam has yet to take aggressive steps to improve its human rights and religious freedom records.

As House and Senate negotiators raced to rescue the Vietnam bill, they are reported to have agreed on a wording compromise aimed at satisfying critics on the human rights issue.

Lawmakers also faced the task of approving trade-related legislation regarding Andean nations (Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia), Haiti and sub-Saharan African countries.

In the House, these issues are thrown into a single trade package along with Vietnam.

The Senate is likely to vote Friday on a large catch-all measure containing trade, and such domestic matters as tax breaks, heath care, and offshore oil drilling.

Lawmakers have also left to the last moments of the session legislation required for the U.S. - India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement to go ahead.

Negotiators reached agreement Thursday on a final reconciled bill revising the U.S. Atomic Energy Act and both chambers of Congress will have to vote again before President Bush can sign it into law.

Senator Bill Frist, who attempted to allay Indian government concerns earlier in the week, issued a statement saying he expected the Senate to approve the measure.

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