“Now in its wisdom, under the leadership of the majority leader, we will be taking up the China currency bill,” said McCain. "[I]f anyone has any curiosity about the low esteem with which Congress is being held, then no better answer to that is the way in which we have address these issues, including not passing a budget for the second year, which is against our own laws."
McCain joked that with such leadership, Congress ought to be able to drive its approval ratings down from low double digits to single digits, despite the fact that they are already down to the approval of “blood relatives and paid staffers.”
“People are very angry at Congress,” said McCain.
The Senate at 3:30 p.m. will begin debate on S. 1619, the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011, and a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the bill will begin sometime after 5:30 p.m.
Reid said on Monday afternoon that he expected the bill would consume the upper chamber's attention for the entire week. While most think the bill has little chance for consideration in the House, Reid rejected that notion.
"The House of Representatives is going to pass China trade," he said in response to McCain. "Everybody knows that now. A couple of months ago that may not have been the case, but they'll pass that as soon as we do."
But McCain said the majority leader was mistaken.
"I believe it's correct that the administration itself objects to this legislation, much less the other body taking it up," he said.
The bill is aimed at addressing years of frustration that Congress has had with China's currency, which most observers agree is artificially undervalued. Under the legislation, the Treasury Department would need to determine if any foreign currencies are in fundamental misalignment, and set up a process of negotiating with designated countries that have misaligned currencies.
That's a change from current law, which requires Treasury to cite currency manipulators. Treasury has cited countries in years past, but for about a decade has not cited anyone, and has argued it cannot easily determine whether countries are manipulating their currency for the purpose of gaining a trade advantage, as the law requires.
Under the bill up in the Senate today, countries that fail to fix their currencies would be subject to higher anti-dumping duties and other penalties such as a procurement ban, not receiving financing from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and U.S. opposition to multilateral bank financing for the targeted countries.
If currency misalignment were persistent, the U.S. would have to request action by the International Monetary Fund, and consider a World Trade Organization case against the offending country.
Industry representatives are expecting the Senate to approve cloture on the bill Monday night, possibly by a healthy margin. The House last year approved a currency bill by a 348-79 vote, but its Senate companion did not move.
—This story was updated at 3:06 p.m. and again at 3:22 p.m.