Schumer seeking China currency vote by May

The public call for a vote before the Memorial Day recess builds pressure on President Barack Obama to take a tougher line with China.

The Treasury Department is set to issue a report by April 15 on currency manipulation by foreign countries.

Schumer and co-sponsor Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said during a press call on Tuesday that they hoped their legislation would lead Treasury to find China manipulates its currency.

Schumer and Graham also said that they believed the only way to get China to change the value of its currency was with force and pressure.

“We intend to move this legislation quickly,” Schumer said. “My feeling is China won’t do anything without pressure.”

China has warned that if the U.S. punishes it for its currency policy, it will set off a trade war where the U.S. will suffer more than China.

Treasury has repeatedly declined to make the assessment that China manipulates its currency in a series of reports going back to the Bush administration, and some observers think the Schumer-Graham legislation is mostly intended to get Treasury to shift its position.

But Schumer insisted Tuesday he would continue to push his legislation regardless of Treasury’s actions, and that he aimed for a vote by May. Schumer said he and other co-sponsors are looking for vehicles on which to attach their legislation.

Schumer and Graham sponsored similar legislation in 2005 that won 67 votes in the Senate but was never taken up in the House. The two backed off pursuit of the bill after the positive Senate vote to give China time to deal with the issue.

China did allow its currency’s value to strengthen after that vote, but has now re-pegged the yuan to the dollar.

This means China’s currency rises and falls with fluxuations in the dollar’s value. Critics say this artificially lowers the value of  China’s currency, making Chinese exports cheaper while U.S. exports to China become more expensive.

The tough comments from Schumer and Graham come the same day a report by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found the U.S. lost 2.4 million jobs to China between 2001 and 2008.

“These figures exceeded even our worst expectations,” Schumer said.

The EPI report blamed the growing trade deficit with China for the jobs losses, and said China’s currency manipulation is a major factor.

The legislation introduced by Schumer and Graham could allow companies to petition the government to impose duties on Chinese imports if a country is found to manipulate its currency.

It also sets up a new set of criteria for Treasury to consider when judging if a country has manipulated its currency.