Like many other things for me while I was in Minneapolis, this came and went last week, but I think it’s a pretty important story to watch. Democrats in the House of Representatives will try to get a discharge petition to force a vote on a bill that would crack down on Chinese currency manipulation. This comes right when a bipartisan companion bill from Sherrod Brown and Olympia Snowe has been introduced in the Senate.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said party members were circulating a “discharge petition” to force Republicans who control the chamber to bring the bill to pressure China to let its currency rise faster in value to the floor. That would require 218 signatures, she said.
“They (Republican leaders) won’t bring it to the floor, we are moving to discharge this legislation,” Pelosi said at a news conference announcing the petition drive.
The bill would clear the way for the U.S. government to consider currency undervaluation as a subsidy that can be offset with U.S. countervailing duties on Chinese goods.
While only a small portion of Chinese exports to the United States would likely be affected, the legislation would encourage U.S. companies to file more trade cases against Chinese competitors, analysts have said.
The House passed the bill last year by a vote of 348-79, with 99 Republicans joining 249 Democrats in support.
Given last year’s numbers, even with the turnover in Congress it shouldn’t be hard to get 218 on the dotted line in support. The underlying bill already has 156 co-sponsors without any whipping. If the House forces a vote, the Senate can follow; Chuck Schumer has been a big supporter of this bill. And while the Senate didn’t get a vote on this bill last year, I could see more space for it to happen now.
First of all, there are the numbers. We’re one year out from China’s announcement that they would allow the renminbi to appreciate, and virtually nothing has happened. In fact, the renminbi is more undervalued against the dollar now than it was a year ago. The Alliance for American Manufacturing estimates that Chinese currency manipulation has cost 2 million American jobs, and revaluation would lead to a 1.9% increase in GDP along with that job creation, and because of increased tax revenues, the deficit would lower by $650-$800 billion over 10 years. I’m skeptical of anything that calls itself a “cost-free stimulus,” but this looks like one – forcing China to do what they refuse to do themselves will raise the attractiveness and selling potential of US exports.
The other part of this is the other half of the trade agenda. The Obama Administration and Congressional Republicans want to pass the Panama, Colombia and South Korea free trade agreements. They think that they can use trade adjustment assistance as the carrot to fair traders to get them to agree to the bill. A consensus where the three trade bills get lumped in with TAA is reportedly near.
But Democratic Senators like Sherrod Brown and Bob Casey lambasted the trade deals last week. And the AFL-CIO vowed to campaign hard against the deal. If you wanted a grand compromise, you could attach the Chinese currency bill to the trade deals and trade adjustment assistance, and get that no-cost stimulus in exchange. That would be a much more balanced solution. And the timing of the discharge petition and the criticism of the trade deals cannot be just a coincidence.
As Sherrod Brown said, “Our straightforward, bipartisan bill would empower the U.S. government to combat this illegal trade subsidy in trade cases. By combating currency manipulation, we can help level the playing field for American manufacturers and speed up our economic recovery.” If you want corporate-written trade deals with smaller countries, it seems like this should be the ransom.