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Senate Gets 79 Votes to Advance China Currency Bill as Obama Sends So-Called Free Trade Agreements to Congress

Yesterday, the Senate voted for cloture on a motion to proceed on a bill to discourage China’s currency manipulation, with a bipartisan 79-19 vote. 31 Republicans voted for the bill with 48 Democrats.

There is nothing out there that would move the needle on jobs that would possibly get that kind of broad support. Functionally, the American Jobs Act is not a going concern, so lowering the trade deficit by ending the policy of China artificially keeping the cost of their exports low is what we have to work with. It’s a key step for now and the future to rebalance trade and give US manufacturing and exports a fighting chance.

That would be a real trade agenda, one that the broad mass of the American public supports and that has the support of both parties. The other “trade agenda,” the one neoliberals prefer, is the one the President kickstarted by sending three trade deals to Congress.

The series of trade agreements I am submitting to Congress today will make it easier for American companies to sell their products in South Korea, Colombia, and Panama and provide a major boost to our exports. These agreements will support tens of thousands of jobs across the country for workers making products stamped with three proud words: Made in America. We’ve worked hard to strengthen these agreements to get the best possible deal for American workers and businesses, and I call on Congress to pass them without delay, along with the bipartisan agreement on Trade Adjustment Assistance that will help workers whose jobs have been affected by global competition.

The fact you need to tie trade adjustment assistance, which provides support for workers displaced by US trade policy, should tell you something about the employment benefits of these trade deals. Countless expert studies show that they will only increase trade deficits and cost American jobs. What’s more, when you’re putting together a binational trade pact with a country that kills trade unionists as a matter of course, you have lost any moral authority to say that you’re acting in the interests of workers anywhere.

So that’s really the choice. We could have a real trade agenda that allows American companies that can manufacture goods to compete on a level and legal playing field, unwinding a thirty-year slide, or we can sign so-called “free” trade bills that will continue the slow bleed of US manufacturing jobs.

As for what will happen, House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday that he would send the trade deals to the floor for passage along with the separate bill authorizing trade adjustment assistance. The likely outcome is that TAA will be authorized and then never appropriated, and even the fig leaf to get support for the trade bills will not materialize. Meanwhile, the House, scrambling to avoid the label of obstructionism on forcing China to stop manipulating their currency, will try a bait and switch:

But while the Chinese currency measure enjoys Republican support in the Senate, it is viewed less favorably in the House, where Representative Dave Camp, the Michigan Republican who is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, is expected to offer his own less aggressive version later this year. Some lawmakers fear that the measure would cause a trade war at a time when China has moved slowly to increase the value of its currency.

Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia and the House majority leader, said the bill could have “unintended consequences,” contributing perhaps to an increase in consumer prices.

So the House passes a toothless bill, then there’s either no conference committee on the bill (see FAA authorization) and nothing passes, or the toothless, useless House bill passes. And China keeps eating our lunch.

This is unacceptable. The currency bill that mirrors the Senate bill got over 340 votes just last year in the House. There is close to a majority co-sponsoring the bill. There’s a discharge petition that no Republicans have signed, even though over 60 that have co-sponsored the bill. There’s a path to pressure those Republicans who have expressed their support to sign their names on the dotted line on that petition and force their leadership to do what’s necessary to stop China from manipulating their currency.

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David Dayen

David Dayen