The Senate briefly set aside partisan conflict on Tuesday evening to overwhelmingly approve legislation retaliating against China’s undervalued currency. But the bill is now likely headed to indefinite purgatory without consideration in the House.
Many Democrats said they hoped the bipartisan 63-to-35 vote would add to the growing momentum and support they have cultivated in the lower chamber. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, capitalized on the broad support in the Senate to recruit 224 co-sponsors for a similar bill in the House.
But House GOP leaders haven’t given any signs that they are ready to reconsider their position that such aggressive legislation could spark a trade war. On Wednesday, a defensive Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, reiterated that while he is concerned about China manipulating the value of its currency, “I’ve made my position pretty clear that I have grave concerns about this bill.”
The Chinese currency vote has come to represent a headache for Boehner. He and other House GOP leaders are dealing with as many as 62 fellow House Republicans who support such a measure.
He tried to turn the issue back to the White House, saying: “While the president’s out campaigning, instead of governing, it would be nice for the president of the United States to make clear what his position is on this China currency bill.”
The White House has not released a Statement of Administration Policy on the Senate-passed legislation. Last week, spokesman Jay Carney raised questions about the bill but declined to take a specific position.
Boehner's effort to force the White House to take a firm stand could allow GOP leaders to stall the bill until it becomes effectively dormant. In that scenario, Boehner and Republicans are able to avoid the wrath of big business leaders who oppose the bill while placing the burden of progress on the Obama administration.
Still, Levin said he plans to use that bipartisan support to “beat the drums” and force House leaders to heed the will of the majority in the chamber.
“What’s making this partisan is the House Republican leadership,” he said. “Momentum is increasing, and the need for this [legislation] continues to be intense.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., took to the floor on Wednesday to urge action on the currency bill.
“This is a one-way street to the disadvantage of American workers,” Pelosi said, in describing the nation’s current trade relationship with China.
But the bill isn’t likely headed for a vote anytime soon.
A Republican Ways and Means aide said China’s currency value will be one element of a broad committee hearing later this fall. Many Republicans on the committee, including Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, oppose currency manipulation legislation entirely and can easily block the subject from moving forward.
This article appears in the October 12, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.