Levin sees no rift with Rangel on China trade

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) insisted this week that he and Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) are on the same page on how to deal with the trade deficit with China.

In an interview with The Hill, Levin said those who assume there are differences on trade policy between he and Rangel are wrong and have been proven wrong in the past. “We are very much together,” Levin said.

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Some sources with small businesses and labor groups pressing for congressional action on the China trade deficit have expressed worries that Rangel may want to head off tough China trade legislation opposed by Wall Street.

These groups believe Rangel’s decision last week to join other members in petitioning the administration for action on China could be a carefully orchestrated attempt — coordinated with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson — to contain congressional unease with Chinese economic policies.

“There’s a fear that Rangel has greater sympathy to Wall Street due to the proximity of his congressional district,” said Ted Bush, who represents an association that is on the executive committee of the China Currency Coalition (CCC), which includes dozens of small- and medium-sized manufacturers and the AFL-CIO.

Bush also notes that a 2004 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers shows Rangel’s district has few manufacturers, which have been the strongest proponents of China currency legislation.

“I think it’s a mistake to say that,” said Levin. “Rangel’s on this currency petition. I think it’s an indication of his determination to get action.”

This is not the first time business and labor group representatives have wondered if Levin and Rangel had different positions on a key trade issue. Most of those lobbying on talks between House Democrats and the administration on trade saw Levin as having stronger ties to organized labor, and Rangel being more interested in reaching a deal.

But Levin said any speculation on a split between he and Rangel on trade issues has been proven wrong in the past and will continue to be wrong. “We are very much together” on the China issue, according to Levin.

The petition, filed by Rangel and 41 other House Democrats and Republicans, asks the administration to bring a World Trade Organization (WTO) challenge against China for manipulating its currency. The petition was filed on the eve of high-level economic talks today and tomorrow in Washington between U.S. officials led by Paulson and a Chinese team led by Vice Premier Wu Yi.

In a statement, Rangel said the time for talk had passed, and that the U.S. must act now to end an unfair trade practice that “cripples” U.S. industries.

The CCC in a press release last week announced support for the petition, but said it was “even more critical” to pass legislation introduced by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) that would allow countervailing duties to be imposed on imports from any country found to manipulate its currency.

Similar petitions filed in 2004 and 2005 were rejected by the administration, leading labor and business groups to predict the new petition will fall on deaf ears, particularly since China announced a slight change in its currency policy hours after it was filed.

However, the petition could at least put off consideration of Ryan-Hunter since the administration has 45 days to consider the petition under U.S. law. If the administration then rejects it, business sources said Rangel could introduce a new bill as an alternative to Ryan-Hunter that might split support. In 2005, Rangel introduced a China bill that CCC members saw as less effective than the Ryan-Hunter bill.

Critics argue the Ryan-Hunter measure violates WTO rules and could further increase trade tensions between the U.S. and China. But the legislation has been popular with members of Congress. It has 102 sponsors so far, and a similar bill attracted 178 sponsors last year but did not come up for a vote.

A spokesman for Rangel said the petition should not be seen as a signal on whether the Ryan-Hunter bill would move forward, and that Rangel is continuing to evaluate the situation. Separately, aides to Ryan and Hunter, who both signed the Rangel petition, said they remain confident Congress will approve tough currency legislation this year.

“This Congress is not about to pass a bill on currency manipulation that doesn’t include teeth in it,” said a spokesman for Ryan.

The CCC is particularly wary that tough China legislation could be put on the backburner after its experience last year with legislation sponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Schumer and Graham repeatedly threatened to force a vote on legislation imposing duties on Chinese goods if China did not revalue its currency. But Schumer and Graham ultimately chose instead to withdraw their bill after receiving a commitment from Finance Committee leaders to include them in work on a WTO-consistent bill, leaving some supporters
feeling used.

 “There was a fairly unpleasant experience the last time for our coalition,” said Bob Baugh, of the AFL-CIO. “We helped them, and they took a walk.”

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