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 US Senate readies to vote on China currency bill

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Join date : 2011-06-24

PostSubject: US Senate readies to vote on China currency bill   Mon Oct 03, 2011 6:13 pm

October 3, 2011

US Senate readies to vote on China currency bill

The U.S. Senate has taken up a bill to punish China for its alleged currency manipulation, a measure that has divided the Republican presidential field and put the White House in a bind.

The legislation — backed by Democrats and Republicans in the polarized Congress, but opposed by Beijing and potent U.S. business groups — faces a key procedural vote set for 5:30 p.m. (2130 GMT) Monday.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, a key author of the measure, predicted the bill would clear that hurdle easily on the road to an “overwhelming vote” to approve it and send it to the House of Representatives.

“The time for asking China nicely is over,” he said Friday.

But the bill faces an uphill fight in the House, where Republican leaders have no plans to bring it up for a vote unless the issue flares up as a core dispute in the November 2012 presidential races, several aides said.

And while White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters last week that the administration was “reviewing” the legislation and would not yet take a formal position, Schumer and others have said President Barack Obama opposes it.

The White House and Republican House leaders are likely mindful of stiff opposition to the bill from the business community in the wake of a letter from 51 U.S. industry groups warning it would spark a “counterproductive” trade war.

The measure builds on congressional anger at the refusal by Obama and his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, to formally designate China as a currency manipulator in annual reports.

It would make it harder to avoid such a diagnosis, while making it easier for U.S. firms to seek retaliatory tariffs against Chinese imports if Beijing is found to keep its currency — and thus its goods — artificially cheap.

With the election season heating up, the bill's backers have tied it to the sour U.S. economy and the high 9.1 percent unemployment rate and said that China's trade policy has cost millions of American jobs.

A recent study by the left-of-center Economic Policy Institute found that the U.S. trade deficit with China has eliminated or displaced nearly 2.8 million jobs since 2001.

But the legislation has split the top two Republican White House contenders, with Texas Governor Rick Perry opposing it and Mitt Romney saying he would make China's currency an issue on his first day in office.

Romney has dubbed China an “economic threat” and vowed to designate Beijing a “currency manipulator,” a step that can trigger retaliatory U.S. sanctions under existing law.

But “this is a free trade issue and Governor Perry does not support this bill,” said a spokesman for his campaign, Mark Miner.

House Democrats hope that anger at the sour economy and at what are seen as China's unfair trade practices will help them force a vote with a little-used parliamentary procedure.

But so far, 174 Democrats — and not one Republican — have signed a so-called “discharge petition” to do just that, leaving it well shy of the 218 signatures it needs, according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's office.

Last year, a similar bill cleared the House by a lopsided 348-79 margin, with 99 Republicans voting yes.

Beijing unsurprisingly opposes the measure: Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei last week urged U.S. lawmakers to “reconsider their decision and refrain from pushing through the bill” and warned against “politicizing economic trade issues and resorting to trade protectionism.”

Republican White House hopeful and former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman told Fox News Channel last week that he “would sign it simply because you need to keep pressure on China” but warned Beijing would retaliate.

“You take action against China, you can expect them to rebut that action with commensurate tariffs,” he said. “During a recession, you don't want a trade war.”


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