Boehner Puts Up Firewall to China Currency Bill
By: David Dayen Thursday October 6, 2011
It was already clear that the House GOP wanted no part of the China currency manipulation bill working its way through the Senate, but John Boehner clinched it the other day, calling it “pretty dangerous” for lawmakers to crack down on China and their artificial lowering of the price of their exports. The Republican leadership even forced Hal Rogers, the chair of the Appropriations Committee, to take his name off the discharge petition trying to force a vote on the bill to the floor, after he initially signed it. There are currently a majority of co-sponsors for the legislation in the House, but only 175 signers of the petition after Rogers took his name off.
This has displeased many Republican lawmakers, who have criticized Boehner and want a vote on China’s currency manipulation.
“I love John Boehner. What’s dangerous is to continue to allow China to cheat without [sic] impunity,” (Sen. Lindsey) Graham said on Laura Ingraham’s radio show.
“The Republican Party embraces free trade, and I am going to vote for the free-trade agreements, but I am not going to be a Republican who turns a blind eye to currency manipulation and intellectual property theft, simply because we don’t want to offend a trading partner that has economic power over the United States,” Graham said [...]
The South Carolina was followed on the program by freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), who echoed Graham’s support for the bill. West said he didn’t know why House leadership was not willing to consider the legislation.
“But I have to tell you that we have to come to the realization that we are in an economic war with China, we have created an incredible trade imbalance with them. I believe in free trade, but it also has to be fair trade,” West said.
West, of course, hasn’t signed the discharge petition.
But the bill now may have trouble getting out of the Senate, after Mitch McConnell tried to wrap it up with the Americna Jobs Act and started a fight over amendments:
The Senate is slated to hold a key procedural vote Thursday morning to break a filibuster, and sponsors of the proposal had predicted that it would easily exceed the necessary 60 votes. But Republicans have grown furious that Democratic leaders have prevented their amendments from being considered, and senior Republican aides were uncertain Wednesday night whether GOP senators would prevent the plan from advancing over their procedural concerns.
The changing dynamics could make Thursday’s vote much closer than anticipated, just a few days after a bipartisan majority voted 79-19 to open debate on the proposal. McConnell was among the 31 Republicans who voted to advance the measure for a floor debate Monday.
Asked on CNBC about the bill’s prospects, the Kentucky Republican said: “It’s probably not going anywhere. … The China currency bill is highly unlikely to pass.”
I’m not sure this reversal is going to happen. Corporate Republicans who want to be seen as “tough” on China but don’t want to upset their buddies in multinational corporations who make cheap products there always have the House as a backstop, so can opt to vote for the bill.
Meanwhile, China has stopped appreciating the renminbi, a rebuke to those who claim that the policies of the US to rebalance Chinese currency have been working. There’s a faint hope that this repegging of their currency to the dollar could signal a new stimulus program from China, which could leak out with a few crumbs to the global economy. But a large-scale stimulus just isn’t likely, and so all of the penalties of artificial currency manipulation come with none of the benefits.
And while this sincere effort at rebalancing trade and reducing the trade deficit falters, the fake effort with corporate-written free-trade deals is sailing through Congress with little opposition. This includes a free trade bill with Colombia, a country that saw the murder of 51 trade unionists in 2010, more than the rest of the world combined. As AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said yesterday, “If 51 CEOs were assassinated in Colombia, would there be a clamor for a trade deal with them?”
UPDATE: McConnell was wrong, by the way. The Chinese currency bill just cleared a final cloture vote in the Senate by a 62-38 score. It was closer than the bipartisan 79-19 initial cloture vote on the motion to proceed. But it will pass the US Senate by the end of the week, and it has a majority of support in the House of Representatives. Of course, this doesn’t mean it will become law.
This time, 12 Republicans joined 50 Democrats in support. On the initial cloture vote, 31 Republicans voted for the bill to proceed.
Scott Paul of the Alliance for American Manufacturers said in a statement: “This is a major victory for American workers and manufacturers, and represents a new direction for our trade policy with China. Today’s cloture vote sends a clear message that the U.S. Senate intends to hold China accountable for its deliberate currency undervaluation. As the Senate moves to a final vote, we hope the White House and House Republicans are paying clear attention. Voters are demanding action to defend American jobs and to create a level playing field for U.S. businesses. There is absolutely no excuse for further delay.”