First-Term Republicans Ready to Support Obama on Russia Trade

First-term Republican U.S. representatives led by Billy Long are willing to back President Barack Obama’s effort to establish normal trade ties with Russia, setting aside differences over health care and taxes.

“We stand ready to achieve this goal” on Russia, according to the draft of a letter Long, a Missouri Republican, said he plans to send Obama this week. Republicans “invite you to work with us, shoulder to shoulder, at all levels in order to swiftly move the legislation.”

Long has signatures from at least 59 Republicans elected in 2010, when the party took control of the House, he said yesterday in a phone interview.

U.S. businesses including Caterpillar Inc., Boeing Co. and General Electric Co. are urging lawmakers to repeal a Cold War-era trade restriction so that they won’t be at a disadvantage to their overseas competitors when Russia joins the World Trade Organization as soon as next month. The nation’s lower house of parliament today voted in favor of Russia’s membership in the Geneva-based trade forum. The upper chamber is scheduled to vote July 18.

Without permanent normal trade relations, the U.S. will be shut out of the WTO’s dispute-settlement board to resolve trade differences with Russia, and U.S. companies won’t be guaranteed the lower tariff rates that Russia has agreed to adopt, according to the Coalition for U.S.-Russia trade, a Washington-based industry group.

Obama Opposition

Lawmakers in both parties have said action to improve trade ties with Russia should be accompanied by measures imposing financial and travel limits on human-rights violators.

Long hasn’t supported Obama, and voted 30 times to repeal or deny funding for the health-care law, according to a June 7 statement. On June 28, he said the Supreme Court decision upholding the law was “a blow to democracy.”

The Senate Finance Committee plans to consider both Russia trade issues as soon as next week. While the human-rights bill has advanced in the House, a bill clearing the way to give Russia improved status hasn’t been introduced. Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, and the Obama administration are seeking a bill without the human-rights punishment.

Obama needs to do more to rally support, Long said.

“I can’t sell the Democrats,” he said. “The president can.”

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