WASHINGTON (B)--The U.S. Senate killed a controversial nonproliferation amendment to the China trade bill, Sept. 13, paving the way for passage of the landmark trade legislation. The Senate voted 65-32 to "table," or kill, the amendment, which was sponsored by Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. A full Senate vote on the China trade bill is expected soon.
Supporters of the China trade bill, which would normalize trade relations with China on a permanent basis, breathed a sigh of relief after the Thompson amendment was killed. The proposal stood as the most formidable threat to the trade bill's fate in the Senate.
The House passed the China trade bill last May, after a bruising months-long lobbying battle. In the Senate, the legislation has broad support, with roughly 70 or so senators expected to vote for it.
But supporters say that amending the legislation in the Senate could be tantamount to killing it for the year, as there would not be enough time for the House and Senate to reconcile differences between the two versions. Throughout this week, the Senate had been considering amendments to the bill, defeating each one by a wide margin. But Thompson's proposal, which deals with sensitive national security issues, had the best chance of approval.
In essence, the broad-ranging amendment was aimed at containing weapons proliferation activities in China, Russia and North Korea, the three countries that recent CIA reports say are key suppliers and developers of weapons of mass destruction.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Thompson argued that the Senate could not ignore the increasing security threats that the three countries pose to the United States, especially in the areas of missile development, biological weaponry, and nuclear capability.
"Are we--the United States of America, the most powerful nation in the world--are we going to do anything about it?" Thompson asked in a speech on the Senate floor.
Thus his proposal would have required require annual reports to Congress on weapons proliferation activities in those three countries. If evidence of threatening activities is found, the president would be called on to impose trade sanctions.
It would also have required require the president to impose sanctions on foreign companies that are involved in weapons technology transfer. Moreover, the Securities and Exchange Commission would have been be required to disclose information on these companies to potential investors in U.S. debt and equity markets.
In debate before Wednesday's vote, the broad-ranging nature of the amendment attracted criticism from several senators. Some said the provisions involving SEC disclosure rules, if enacted, would have resulted result in the U.S. capital markets being used as a sanctions tool, an ill-advised practice that could cause instability in the financial markets.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., argued that the sanctions provisions contain "hair triggers which are tripped by minimal evidence," and could wind up doing more harm than good.
"I believe the amendment is deeply flawed, with major procedural and review problems," Feinstein said. With Thompson amendment now dead, the Senate will continue to consider other amendments this week, including three sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC, a staunch opponent of the bill. All are expected to be defeated.