A proposal on Chinese currency has opened up a fissure between congressional Republican leaders who have criticized the bill as “dangerous” and rank-and-file members who argue that it would level the playing field between the U.S. and China on trade.
But the intra-party split is even more pronounced in the House, where leaders have rebuffed calls – including some from members of their own party – to hold a vote on the bill.
In interviews this week, several rank-and-file House Republicans described themselves as conflicted between wanting to consider the China currency bill and not wishing to pick a fight with leadership on the issue.
“I’m torn because I support the issue. ... As far as coming from northeast Indiana, there’s a lot of steel manufacturing; the Chinese manipulation of currency is a problem for us,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.), one of the 87 members of the House Republican freshman class.
Stutzman said that he hadn’t looked into the specifics of the legislation currently making its way through the upper chamber. He called Senate Democrats’ decision to press forward now on the measure “a little odd” considering that the White House has not given its blessing.
Still, Stutzman said he’d vote “on a good version” of a China currency bill “whenever it happens.”
“As I said, I don’t know what their version is,” he said. “I know we’re focused on a lot of other things. ... But if leadership wants to do it, I’ll be glad to work with them and hopefully support a good version of the bill.”
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) is another lawmaker who said that he would support House consideration of a China currency measure.
“I wouldn’t mind having the debate,” said Rooney, who was one of 99 Republicans who joined most Democrats last September in backing a similar measure. “I think that certainly, if there’s an inequity -- having the free-trade argument is one thing, but the people in my district want trade to be fair. ... I would like to see us at some point bring it up.”
Also among the House Republicans supporting consideration of a China currency bill is freshman Rep. Allen West (Fla.).
“If you don’t take some type of action, you’re going to get even worse behavior, and we’ve got to call the Chinese out on this,” West said this week, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Several lawmakers in interviews this week declined to take a position on the measure until it has cleared the Senate, which is expected to happen next Tuesday.
“I’ll wait ‘til it comes over and see,” said Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), the president of the House Republican freshman class. “Honestly, I’ve been working on a couple of other things. We’ll see what they send over.”
The bill has made for some strange political bedfellows: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday echoed conservative senators such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) in calling for the House to take up the China measure.
“This is huge, and we must level the playing field,” she said, citing reports that three pending trade deals with South Korea, Panama and Colombia would amount to the creation of only 80,000 jobs while the Chinese currency issue is costing the U.S. more than 1 million jobs. “I can say flat out, with all the respect I have for the people of China, all the importance I place on that relationship ... we are in an abusive relationship with China when it comes to trade.”
Pelosi added – as Republican supporters of the measure have noted – that a similar bill last year “passed overwhelmingly in the House.”
“I would hope that the Republican majority would give us a chance to bring up the bill,” she said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other House GOP leaders, meanwhile, have struck a skeptical note on the measure – just as the White House has done. At an Atlantic Ideas Forum event Thursday morning, he defended the actions of the Obama and Bush administrations on the Chinese currency issue and argued that the legislation being considered by the Senate would be counterproductive.
“Well there’s been concern on my part -- and frankly from a lot of quarters here in America -- about how the Chinese have manipulated their currency,” Boehner said. “There’s been every effort you can imagine out of our Treasury Department over the last seven or eight years addressing this with the Chinese. There’s been significant improvement in the valuation of China’s currency as a result of those conversations. But for the Congress of the United States to pass legislation to force the Chinese to do what is arguably very difficult to do, I think is wrong. It’s dangerous.”
Obama has said that he shares the goals of the bill’s supporters when it comes to pressuring China to allow the yuan to appreciate. But the White House is unlikely to endorse the Senate legislation.
That means that for perhaps one of the first times in the 112th Congress, Obama and Boehner are seeing eye-to-eye – and Pelosi and rank-and-file Republicans are united on the other side of the issue.