The Republican-led House of Representatives passed a package of trade bills Friday night that includes a measure extending normal trade status to Vietnam.
A weekend Senate session still loomed as some senators objected to trade provisions benefiting Vietnam, Haiti and Andean nations, among others. The House passed the trade bill by a 212-184 vote.
If the Senate should resolve its disputes, pass the package and adjourn, the Republican control of Congress, which has lasted 12 years in the House, would be over. That would set the stage for the next Congress to convene Jan. 4 with Democrats in the majority in both the House and the Senate.
The Vietnam bill would end the Cold War requirement that trade with the communist state be reviewed every year. Supported by the Bush administration, the proposal has run into opposition from critics of Vietnam's human rights record and those worried about the impact on American jobs.
Sen. Max Baucus, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said the bill "makes certain that more U.S.-made goods will get into Vietnam's markets."
Republican Rep. David Dreier said the Vietnam measure would encourage economic and political liberalization in the Southeast Asian nation and provide access for American companies hoping to crack a booming market.
Some industry groups, however, are worried that Vietnam's heavy subsidies and other trade policies have damaged the U.S. textile industry severely, costing companies billions of dollars and destroying American jobs.
The trade package also would extend or expand trade breaks for Haiti, sub-Saharan Africa and Andean nations, drawing opposition from supporters of the beleaguered U.S. textile industry.
Eight Republican senators on Thursday wrote congressional leaders, saying 100,000 textile jobs in their region already had been lost due to trade agreements. They said they would oppose "as forcefully as possible" the Haiti measure.
Republican President George W. Bush's trade liberalization efforts could face trouble in the next Congress.
Democrats, who will come to power when a new Congress begins Jan. 4, contend the deals often favor U.S. competitors. They accuse the Bush administration of doing too little to protect Americans from unfair foreign trade practices.