The House of Representatives threw a roadblock in front of the Bush Administration’s plan to subsidize the sale of nuclear reactors to the China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) on June 28. Socialist Rep. Bernie Sanders (I.-Vt.) successfully amended a foreign aid bill, adding a provision that would prohibit a $5 billion Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) loan deal intended to aid Westinghouse.
Sanders’ amendment passed 313 to 114, reflecting widespread concerns about the loan deal, for which Ex-Im granted preliminary approval on February 18. Human Events was the first to report that this record subsidy would go to the same arm of the Chinese government that has been caught aiding the nuclear weapons programs of Pakistan and Iraq.
The provision, however, is unlikely to end up in the final legislation. In the House-Senate conference that would iron out a final bill, it is likely that Sanders’ provision will be stripped. The key House Republicans on this issue all opposed Sanders’ amendment, meaning they support the loan deal. Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) voted no, as did Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis (R.-Calif.) and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Kolbe (R.-Ariz.).
In the Senate, Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairman Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) is a strong supporter of trade with China. The offices of McConnell, Kolbe and DeLay did not return calls for comment.
Sanders, who plans to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Jeffords (I.-Vt.), is widely considered the most liberal member of Congress. He regularly opposes the reauthorization and funding of Ex-Im, whose central function is to use taxpayer dollars to finance U.S. companies’ exports.
In the brief floor debate, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.) was the only Republican to speak in favor of Sanders’ amendment. He said: “This is, again, a no-brainer for me, but the American people need to find out whose side the Congress is on. The policies we have had to China in these last 20 years have created a Frankenstein monster that threatens not only the peace of the world, but threatens the prosperity of our people and the freedom of those who would seek freedom in China itself.”
Vaughn Gilbert, a spokesman for Westinghouse, said the company was not too worried about the House vote. Westinghouse has also been working to reassure the Chinese government, which could be unsettled by the House vote, even though Sanders’ provision has little chance of making it into law. “We’ve been working closely with our customer to make sure they understand what the political realities are,” Gilbert told Human Events.
Gilbert sounded a note of confidence that the CNNC, later this year, would choose Westinghouse to build its nuclear reactors. After all, the company has an important ally in the Bush Administration and the Export-Import Bank, Gilbert notes, saying, “We have very strong support from the U.S. government.”