WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on Tuesday he did not see adequate support emerging to pass legislation upgrading American trade relations with Russia.
"Unfortunately, we don't see the bipartisan coalition we need to pass it," Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, told reporters. He added that House Republicans were continuing to work with Senate leaders to try to find support for the measure.
Congress is under pressure to approve "permanent normal trade relations" with Russia to ensure that U.S. companies share in all the market-opening benefits of Moscow's entry into the World Trade Organization last month.
But Russia's support for Iran and Syria, as well as its record on human rights, makes it unpopular in Congress.
Despite Cantor's comment, business groups have said there is strong bipartisan support for the PNTR bill because U.S. companies will be at a disadvantage to European and Asian competitors in Russia if the legislation is not approved.
A spokesman for Representative Steny Hoyer, the House's No. 2 Democrat, said Cantor should set a vote on the bill.
"Mr. Hoyer has said consistently that he's confident that when Republicans schedule the bill, it will pass the House with a strong majority. That has not changed," Hoyer spokeswoman Katie Grant said.
Both the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate must pass PNTR to give President Barack Obama the opportunity to sign it into law.
Republicans have accused Obama of not doing enough to round up Democratic support for the Russia trade bill, even though the White House has called PNTR its top trade priority this year.
In early August, Cantor said he planned to bring up the Russia trade bill on the so-called suspension calendar usually reserved for non-controversial pieces of legislation. To broaden support for the measure, Cantor also said he planned to attach another bill that would target Russian officials for human rights violations.
Passing a bill on the suspension calendar requires a two-thirds' vote, instead of a simple majority, meaning Republicans would need help from a substantial number of Democrats.
Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney supports the bill, but only if the human rights bill is attached, his campaign said last week.
Obama administration officials have said they would prefer a clean PNTR bill, but would make a judgment on the human rights provisions after seeing the final language.
(Reporting By Richard Cowan and Doug Palmer; Editing by Eric Beech and Peter Cooney)