Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have traded superheated barbs in the past week over who would be tougher on China's trade practices, but neither has tried to take advantage of a Senate-passed currency manipulation bill that has been sitting on the House calendar for almost a year.
Instead, Romney has tried to outflank Obama by vowing to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in the Oval Office, and Obama has parried by blasting Romney's record on outsourcing and touting his own record of filing enforcement actions against China, including one this week on auto parts subsidies.
But the bipartisan China currency bill, which passed the Senate last October and could lead to steep tariffs on Chinese goods, remains bottled up by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) despite having more than enough co-sponsors to pass - and that's where it's likely to stay.
In an unusual, de facto alliance, the White House, top House Republicans and an array of powerful business interests - including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce - think launching a broad-scale assault on China's currency policies is not worth the risk of a full-blown trade war.
Like Romney this year, then-Sen. Obama said he would go to "the mat" on the issue five years ago. And despite his rhetoric, Romney so far has not called on Boehner to put the bill up for a vote.
Boehner, for his part, has repeatedly called the currency bill "dangerous" while lobbing the issue back in the White House's court. Why bring up the bill if the president won't say he'll sign it?
The White House's public stance appears to be deliberately vague. The president has been caught between many of his allies on the left, who want him to wield the biggest possible stick, and concerns about Chinese retaliation and the ensuing effect on a weak U.S. economy. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney last year said the administration shares the goals of the legislation but has concerns about it affecting other international obligations.
The reality, however, is that the president has done nothing to advance the bill. Nor has Obama been willing to label China a currency manipulator under his administration's existing authority, as Romney notes frequently on the campaign trail. That's frustrated some of Obama's allies, including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who earlier this year accused the administration of again giving China a "free pass." It's a criticism the Romney camp has eagerly disseminated to reporters.
Some Democrats believe Obama missed an opportunity to put House Republicans on defense.