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Prospects Appear Dim for Currency Bill

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor expressed reservations Monday about moving forward with the bill designed to punish China for currency manipulation.

Instead, House Republicans may choose to take up the issue of unfair trade practices by holding a series of hearings and, perhaps in the long term, making their own legislative offering. There are merits to discussing the benefits of fairer trade to American workers, some Republicans have suggested, but there is also serious concern in the GOP caucus that the Senate version of the bill would do more harm than good.

The united reticence from Republicans in the House stands in stark contrast to the positions taken by their GOP counterparts in the Senate, who were divided Monday on whether the bill should pass or why the Democratic-controlled body was considering the measure at all.

Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) sent a "Dear Colleague" letter urging Senate Republicans to support the bill, using it as an opportunity to criticize the White House for shirking its responsibility to act against countries that may be underrating the value of their currencies.

"China's consistent, deliberate, and strategic devaluing of its currency,
specifically designed to create huge trade imbalances with the United States, skews the system," Sessions wrote. "But despite negotiations and promises, the Obama Administration and its predecessors have failed to persuade the Chinese to play by the rules. It now falls on the Senate to lead where the White House has abdicated."

Not all Republicans, however, shared Sessions' passion. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had a contentious back-and-forth with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on the floor Monday afternoon before the chamber's vote to proceed to the trade measure.

"With over 9 percent unemployment, with a debt and a deficit continuing to run out of control, with the 12 or 13 appropriations bills not acted on, with the Defense authorization bill perhaps for the first time in 41 years not being taken up ... now in its wisdom, under the leadership of the Majority Leader, we will be taking up the China currency bill," McCain said with frustration on the floor.

Reid then came to the floor to engage McCain and defend the Democrats' plan to move forward with a bill that has bipartisan support.

Aides close to Senate leadership in both parties say the bill's ultimate fate in the chamber — despite prospects looking as good as any for passage — will be determined by how many amendments Republicans get to offer on the package, whether they will be germane and whether it will be enough for some Members who want to open debate on the bill to get their proposals heard.

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