“I expect strong, bipartisan support to move this legislation forward,” Reid said in remarks on the Senate floor ahead of a Monday evening vote on the measure, S.1619. “My colleagues – both Democrats and Republicans – agree that China’s deliberate actions to devalue its currency give its goods an unfair competitive advantage in the marketplace. That hurts our economy and it costs American jobs.”
The bill, the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011, is a combination of an earlier measure introduced by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) that passed the House last year and a separate bill authored by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that cleared the Senate Finance Committee in 2007. The Senate is expected to vote to proceed on the measure at 5:30 p.m. Monday.
While the text of the legislation does not specifically mention China, the measure represents the latest effort by lawmakers to ratchet up pressure on that country to allow the yuan to increase in value. The bill has garnered bipartisan support but its backing is particularly strong among Senate Democrats who represent Rust Belt states hard hit by the economic downturn and who face re-election in 2012, such as Brown and Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
Reid announced last week that he was bringing the measure to the floor ahead of expected Senate action later this month on President Obama’s jobs bill. The currency measure, he said Monday, is itself a jobs bill.
“If China stops the practices that artificially tip the scales in its favor, it would support 1.6 million American jobs,” Reid said. “I hope this legislation will motivate China to stop devaluing the yuan on its own. I also know it will send a strong message to the Chinese that America will no longer ignore their blatant, unfair trade practices.”
But the White House – which has said it shares Congress’ goal on the currency issue but prefers to handle the matter through diplomatic rather than legislative channels -- has been lukewarm on the latest measure. And House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) declined to say Monday whether the lower chamber would take up the bill if the Senate passes it as expected by the end of the week.
“I’m watching what the Senate [does],” Cantor told reporters at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing, adding that he is concerned about “any unintended consequences that may result.”
Cantor also alluded to the less-than-enthusiastic response by the White House to the bill and said he was “curious as to where the administration is on this.”
“Obviously, they are the ones -- with (the U.S. Trade Representative) and others -- dealing with the trade situation with China, the impacts that an escalation they have on consumer prices. ... We are an economy that is three times the size of China’s,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do here ourselves.”
Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have also expressed opposition to the measure.
Reid was joined Monday by an unlikely ally from the other side of the aisle as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke in favor of the currency bill.
Among the lawmakers speaking out against the measure on the Senate floor Monday afternoon was Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said he responded with “amazement” at Reid’s announcement that the Senate would proceed on the currency bill while it has yet to take action on more than a dozen appropriations bills as well as a defense authorization measure.
“And then someone in this body may wonder why the approval rating of Congress is (12 or 13 percent),” McCain said. “I think, proceeding in this fashion, we may be able with some success to drive that down into single digits.”
Staff writer David A. Fahrenthold contributed to this report.