Labor to push for China currency bill during lame-duck session

Unions are pressing Democrats in the Senate to approve legislation in the lame-duck session punishing China for its alleged currency manipulation.

“I think we have a great chance of passing it, and we are going to do everything to maximize that chance,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. 

He said the legislation, approved by the House in September, is “the most important step we can take to stop the outsourcing of jobs.”

Members of both parties in the House supported the bill, which would change U.S. law to direct the Commerce Department to consider a country’s manipulation of its currency when it assesses anti-subsidy duties. 

But business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce oppose the legislation, and argue it could inflame tensions with the Chinese and lead to retaliation. The Obama administration has also generally been cool to congressional legislation on currency. 

Internationally, the U.S. is under criticism for weakening its own currency because of the Federal Reserve’s decision to print more money as part of an effort to stimulate the U.S. economy and create jobs. 

Before the election, Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDonald Trump Jr. headlines Montana Republican convention Montana's environmental lobby teams with governor to kill 600 jobs Dems allow separation of parents, children to continue, just to score political points MORE (D-N.Y.) said he wanted to force a vote on his legislation in the lame-duck session. 

While the legislation could affect a number of countries, it is targeted toward China, which pegs its currency to the value of the dollar. Unions argue this keeps the price of China’s imports artificially low, making it easier for China to export products to the U.S. and harder for U.S. manufacturers and workers to compete with Chinese goods. They argue China’s policies have cost the U.S. jobs. 

Trumka suggested unions will continue to be on offense in the next two years, despite a midterm election that saw labor-friendly Democrats lose their House majority along with six Senate seats. 

“When necessary, we will play defense, but we intend to play offense,” Trumka said. “Those who got elected will have to create jobs or face the scorn of voters in two years.”

AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel added: “The Democrats are still in control of two out of three of the decisionmakers in Washington, the White House and the Senate.

“We are going to be as aggressive as we can on Capitol Hill,” Samuel continued. “I don’t think our strategy is going to change in that respect.” 

The AFL-CIO is arguing against an extension of all of the Bush-era tax cuts, arguing that those for families with income above $250,000 should be allowed to expire. Trumka invoked the program used to bail out banks, calling an extension of those tax rates “TARP 2.” 

“Instead of bailing out the banks, we are bailing out the people at the helm,” Trumka said. 

The labor leader also rejected a compromise floated by some lawmakers whereby all the tax rates would be temporarily extended, saying it would add to the deficit and would not create jobs. 

In addition, Trumka continued to hammer against a proposal released last week by the chairmen of President Obama’s debt commission. 

Trumka called the proposal, which recommends steep spending cuts, “a millstone for our economy” and said it is precisely the wrong time to cut government spending, with so many still unemployed. 

The AFL-CIO president praised President Obama for his enforcement of trade laws as well as leaving South Korea last week without a free trade deal in hand. Administration officials worked hard to try to renegotiate the agreement, but Obama did not feel the deal was reworked enough. 

“He stood tough on the Korea deal. They weren’t willing to make concessions, and he said, ‘I am not willing to accept a bad deal,’ ” Trumka said. 

The labor leader said the AFL-CIO will review the Korea trade deal once it is finalized and decide then whether it can support the deal. 

“I think he’s trying right now. We will see what the end product is, and if it’s good enough, we will support it, and if it’s not good enough, we won’t support it,” Trumka said.