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USTR Logjam Ending?

WASHINGTON — The fight over the nomination of Rep. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) as the next U.S. Trade Representative appeared to be coming to a head.<BR><BR>Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.), trying to circumvent an effort to block...

WASHINGTON — The fight over the nomination of Rep. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) as the next U.S. Trade Representative appeared to be coming to a head.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.), trying to circumvent an effort to block balloting on Portman’s nomination in the full Senate, filed a motion for cloture Wednesday that could force a vote. Cloture is the only procedure by which the Senate may decide to place a time limit on consideration of a bill or nomination.

The vote on cloture was slated for today. The measure, which requires 60 supporters to pass, would restrict the debate on Portman to 30 hours.

Portman, President Bush’s nominee to be the nation’s next trade chief, has been waiting for a vote since Sen. Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) placed a hold on his nomination. Bayh is seeking assurances from Republican leaders that they will schedule a vote on a bill he cosponsored that would penalize China and other nonmarket economies for subsidizing exports.

Bayh on Wednesday attached his bill, the Stopping Overseas Subsidies Act, to transportation legislation being debated in the Senate. The Senate leadership had not scheduled a vote on that bill at press time.

A spokesman for Bayh said the senator was in discussions with Republican leaders and others and “looking for ways to resolve the issue,” although he would not identify possible resolutions.

“Senator Bayh is looking for action on the China trade issue,” the spokesman said. “This has never been about Portman. We should get Portman confirmed and Congress needs to take action on China’s unfair trade practices. These two are not mutually exclusive.”

Late Thursday sources said the Senate leadership and Bayh were close to working out a deal in which the Senate would take up his bill at a later date. If that deal is reached, it would clear the way for a vote on Portman.