The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would put greater U.S. pressure on China and other countries to allow their currency to appreciate, giving the green light to a measure that supporters say would create jobs but that both the White House and House Republican leaders have warned could lead to a trade war.
The chamber approved the measure on a bipartisan 63-to-35 vote. Voting “yes” were 46 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, as well as 17 Republicans. Voting “no” were 30 Republicans and five members who caucus with Democrats.
The next step remains uncertain. House Republican leaders have declined to bring the measure up for a vote, arguing that the White House must first formally make its position known.
“Look, I think what I would like to see is where the administration is,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters earlier Tuesday at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing. “I mean, clearly they’ve got concerns as well. They have not issued a (statement of administration policy) on something this important; I would think that they would. ... I would like to hear from those who are on the frontline of this relationship with China what the concerns are. It would seem to me that it’s a big deal when you’re talking about a trading partner like China, if you do this without the input of the White House.”
Several rank-and-file House Republicans have in recent days said they would support consideration of the China currency measure but described themselves as hesitant to buck their party’s leadership on the matter.
Obama said last week that he had spoken with Senate leaders about his concerns regarding the measure, which he called “symbolic.”
“Whatever tools we put in place, let’s make sure that these are tools that can actually work, that they’re consistent with our international treaties and obligations,” Obama said at a Thursday news conference.
The measure would require the U.S. Treasury Department to impose retaliatory tariffs on countries found to have “misaligned” currency. Treasury routinely assesses the practices of China and other countries but has declined to conclude that China’s valuation of the yuan is the result of manipulation. Economists estimate that the yuan is undervalued by as much as 15 to 38.5 percent.