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USTR Nominee Recommended

The Senate Finance Committee gave the nod to Rep. Rob Portman to be U.S. Trade Representative, but his full Senate confirmation faces a hurdle.

WASHINGTON — The Senate Finance Committee voted Tuesday to recommend President Bush’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, Rep. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), but his confirmation by the full Senate still faces a hurdle.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) has a hold on a full Senate vote until he gets assurances from Republican leaders that they will schedule a vote on a bill he co-sponsored that would penalize China and other nonmarket economies for subsidizing exports. The GOP sets the agenda in the Senate because it is in the majority.

Senate rules allow lawmakers to block nominations by placing a hold on consideration to force leadership to address a specific concern, often legislation that would not otherwise be taken up.Portman is expected to get confirmation easily.

“The hold is still in place,” said Bayh’s communications director, Dan Pfeiffer.

Bayh is pressing for a vote on the Stopping Overseas Subsidies Act, which supporters claim is a nonpartisan effort to combat China’s import surge into the U.S. The measure would permit companies to file unfair trade complaints against nonmarket economies such as China, alleging that import prices are held down because of foreign government subsidies that harm U.S. producers. The Commerce Department does not currently allow so-called countervailing duty cases.

At his confirmation hearing last week, Portman vowed to crack down on China with more aggressive enforcement to protect U.S. jobs. As the country’s top trade chief, Portman would face pressure from House members from textile-producing states for quotas on apparel and textile imports from China, which have increased dramatically since the Jan. 1 elimination of quotas by World Trade Organization countries.

He also would inherit one of the most definitive trade battles in a decade, as the administration gears up to send the controversial Central American Free Trade Agreement to Congress.