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November 27, 2012

Baucus wants trade bill focused on human rights violations in Russia

A top Senate Democrat is hopeful that the upper chamber can clear a House-passed trade bill next week that targets human rights violations only in Russia. 

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Tuesday that he prefers legislation providing permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Moscow to focus solely on punishing human rights violators in Russia instead of a broader, global bill. 

"I think it should be Russia specific" because that was where Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was jailed for calling out government corruption, died in prison after being tortured in 2009. 

The House bill, which passed Nov. 16, includes identical trade language to the Senate's measure repealing the obsolete Jackson-Vanik law, a U.S. law aimed at encouraging the emigration of Russian Jews with the threat of higher tariffs. It specifically calls for denying U.S. visas and freezing the assets of Russian officials involved Magnitsky's death.

He told reporters he hoped the bill could be passed by the Senate next week and sent to President Obama for his signature. 

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said Tuesday he is still pushing for passage of his broader measure that covers violations around the globe and he may offer an amendment to the House bill. 

"I absolutely want it global but I want to make sure we get a bill," he said. 

Cardin said he has neither gotten confirmation from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that the bill will come up next week nor has he discussed floor procedures for the measure. 

He is still working with his Senate co-sponsors along with House members who support a global measure, including House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.). 

Any changes could put the bill's clearance by the end of the year in jeopardy with lawmakers already running out of time to complete a short-term package to solve looming tax and spending issues that will hit in January. 

Following passage of the House bill, the Russian Foreign Ministry vowed to retaliate although they did not outline any specifics.

Moscow joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) more than three months ago after nearly two decades of lobbying. 

The Obama administration has said it strongly supports the House-passed measure, which also normalizes trade relations with Moldova.