WASHINGTON (B)--Commerce Secretary William Daley said April 11 that he expected U.S. House's debate on normalizing U.S. trade relations with China to remain fluid until only "days, if not hours," before the vote itself. The House is expected to vote on the measure the week of May 22. "My sense is a lot of undecideds will stay undecided until May," Daley told reporters after a Senate hearing on the issue.

Daley also indicated that at this point, neither side has the 218 votes needed to win a majority in the House. The measure is expected to win passage in the Senate without much difficulty.

In an effort to sway members who have concerns about China's behavior in several areas, the Clinton administration is continuing to speak to lawmakers about the possibility of supporting a companion bill to the trade measure, Daley said. This "sidecar bill" could be aimed at reiterating U.S. support for Taiwan in case of a Chinese invasion, or creating a commission to discuss human rights in China.

"We are holding discussions with members right now on what there issues are," Daley said.

However, at his regular briefing April 11, House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-TX, said that supporters of the China trade measure seemed to be gaining ground, so a companion bill would be unnecessary.

However, Lori Wallach, a grassroots activist lobbying fiercely against the measure, said she thought the opposition was gaining votes, and she was confident the measure would be defeated. Wallach leads the Global Trade Watch arm of Public Citizen, an activist group founded by Ralph Nader.

After testifying at the Senate hearing, Wallach said it would be difficult for supporters to get a 218-vote majority because Democratic support should be limited to about 70 members, and it is unlikely that 148 Republicans would support the proposal.

In addition, Wallach said the opposition is a planning a massive public demonstration effort from now until the vote. Demonstrations are expected here over the next week, and then even more people are expected to participate in rallies in the home districts of undecided House members when Congress is on recess the last two weeks this month.

"The events in Washington are going to be dwarfed to what will happen in the two weeks during the recess," Wallach said.

China signed a deal last November pledging sweeping open-market concessions in exchange for U.S. support for its membership in the World Trade Organization, but made clear that the deal would depend on U.S. congressional approval of permanent normalized trade relations.

If approved, the measure would lower U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods to the level enjoyed by all but a handful of nations.

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