House Majority Leader Eric Cantor pressed the White House on Tuesday to clarify President Barack Obama’s position on Senate legislation designed to crack down on Chinese currency manipulation. The legislation, which has bipartisan support in the Senate and House, is opposed by House GOP leaders.
“The debate would be well-served by the White House stepping up and indicating where its concerns are,” the Virginia Republican told reporters at his weekly pen-and-pad. “It’s very critical that they lead on this,” he added.
At his news conference last week, Obama said he had worries about whether the legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), would run afoul of international trade rules.
“My main concern — and I’ve expressed this to Sen. Schumer — is 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. I don’t want a situation where we’re just passing laws that are symbolic, knowing that they’re probably not going to be upheld by the World Trade Organization, for example, and then suddenly U.S. companies are subject to a whole bunch of sanctions,” Obama said.
But the president has declined to say whether he would veto the legislation or whether the bill, as written, would in fact violate WTO and other rules, triggering sanctions.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to further specify the president’s position in remarks to reporters Tuesday aboard Air Force One, saying, “I don’t want to get out ahead of the vote on Capitol Hill.”
Cantor noted the White House had not issued a Statement of Administration Policy on the bill. “On something this important, I would think that they would,” he said.
“The [U.S. trade representative], the State Department, the Commerce Department — they all have an interest in this. And, certainly, the president does,” Cantor said.
Neither the U.S. trade representative, the State Department nor the Commerce Department responded to Roll Call’s inquiries by press time Tuesday.
Experts say China’s macroeconomic actions have resulted in a cheaper currency than would be expected under normal market conditions. This has made Chinese products relatively cheaper to buy in the U.S. and American imports relatively more expensive to buy in China, hurting U.S. manufacturers.
But critics of the legislation warn it could lead to a crippling trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), for instance, last week called the legislation “dangerous.”
Despite these concerns, the proposal enjoys bipartisan support. The House passed a version of the legislation in the 111th Congress, 348-79, with 99 Republicans joining 249 Democrats to support it. It was reintroduced in February with 225 co-sponsors.
“I suspect if it were brought up again, it would pass very overwhelmingly again,” said Erik Autor, vice president of international trade council at the National Retail Federation, one of the organizations fighting the bill. “We’re not going to be storming the House of Representatives in an effort to persuade Members not to vote for this. ... This thing has its own political dynamic that we’re just not going to be able to influence when it comes to a floor vote.”
But with the high-level opposition of figures such as Boehner, the bill is unlikely to make it to the floor.
Lobbyists opposed to the bill said on Tuesday that they were confident it would not make it to the House floor and that they hadn’t exactly planned a flurry of meetings aimed at keeping it off the agenda. The substantive concern, aired last week by Boehner, and procedural obstacles — revenue raisers must originate in the House — should be enough to keep it off the House calendar, lobbyists said.