WASHINGTON (CNN) -
A bipartisan group of lawmakers Wednesday vowed to aggressively fight normal trade relations with China, saying Beijing is rapidly becoming the world's manufacturing center and high-tech hub at the expense of millions American jobs back home.
"The question that the American people have to ask is why it is that corporate America -- with the active support of the president of the United States and the congressional leadership -- is selling out the American people and making China the economic superpower of the 21st century," said Rep. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont.
Congress approved permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) in September 2000, contingent upon China becoming a member of the World Trade Organization, which occurred in December 2001.
PNTR allows Chinese exports into the United States at the same low tariffs as goods from most countries. But critics say an unexpected result of the policy is that it has drained American jobs from both the manufacturing sector and technology industry, with college graduates in China making as little as 40 cents an hour.
"We should be very aware that PNTR is not only leading to the destruction of traditional blue-collar manufacturing," Sanders said. "It is leading to the loss of millions of high-tech information technology jobs as well."
Sanders blasted American-based companies like Wal-Mart (Research), IBM (Research), General Motors (Research), Boeing (Research), Microsoft (Research) and others, saying they "cannot keep sending America's future to China."
"Trade is a good thing, but it must be based on principles that are good for the American worker," he said. "We must repeal PNTR."
Rep. Walter Jones, a conservative Republican from North Carolina, highlighted the scope of the problem by recounting how shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks lawmakers gathered on the steps of Congress in a show of bipartisanship. American flags were handed out to each member to wave in the air.
"I looked at my flag and it was made in China. How sad and how pathetic," he told reporters. "This is an example of what has happened."
Jones pledged to work with lawmakers to even the playing field with China's trade.
"We've got to get serious about these trade agreements, and we must say to this administration, 'Let's think about Americans first and let's think about profits second.'"
Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said 1.5 million American jobs have been moved to China and thousands more jobs have been affected by Chinese companies pirating American technology.
He said PNTR "has made the Chinese even more arrogant and the theft and loss of American jobs is increasing rapidly."
"We have to stop this hemorrhage," DeFazio said.
Sanders said that if Congress doesn't act, the issue will affect generations of Americans to come.
"The great economic struggle of our time is whether the middle class of the United States of America can be saved," he said. "Will we be a country in which ordinary workers have bright futures with good-paying jobs and decent benefits, or will we continue to move in an oligarchic direction in which the rich get richer and almost everyone else gets poorer?
"To a significant degree, the answer to that question will depend on whether the United States Congress has the courage to make fundamental changes in our trade policies."