Reid playing for leverage with jobs bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidThis week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Week ahead: Spending fight shifts from Zika to Flint Black Caucus demands Flint funding from GOP MORE (D-Nev.) has made it clear that he will not schedule a vote on President Obama’s jobs package until after the upper chamber moves a China currency bill that the administration does not support.

Reid is wielding a significant amount of leverage with the White House on the China legislation, which is unlikely to be signed into law in the 112th Congress. Yet passing the bill through the Senate — which is expected to happen next month — would help Democratic incumbents on the campaign trail, where China-bashing usually resonates. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The bill would crack down on what critics contend is China’s policy of manipulating currency to give its companies a trading advantage. The Obama administration is not eager to confront China over its currency policy, but congressional Democrats are eager to tackle it — especially politically vulnerable Democratic incumbents in Midwestern states. They include Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownLawmakers play catch-up as smartphone banking surges Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas House votes to eliminate Olympic medal tax MORE (Ohio), Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowGOP puts shutdown squeeze play on Dems Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners Week ahead: Flint aid fight shifts to House MORE (Mich.) and Bob CaseyBob CaseyDems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare Enough bickering, time to stay focused on important issues: Pennsylvania holds keys in Clinton-Trump tilt MORE Jr. (Pa.), whose states’ economies have suffered because of a steady outflow of manufacturing jobs to China.

Some Senate Democrats have described the president’s position as “eerily silent.” And that’s how they want it to stay, knowing that opposition from Obama would hurt their cause.

The China measure has long been a top priority for Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerThis week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Saudis hire lobbyists amid 9/11 fight Consumer bureau remains partisan target after Wells Fargo settlement MORE (D-N.Y.), one of Reid’s top deputies. 

The then-Democratic-controlled House last year passed a China currency bill, 348-79, a month before the elections, but the top three Republicans in the House — Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerRepublican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare The disorderly order of presidential succession MORE (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric CantorEric CantorRyan seeks to avoid Boehner fate on omnibus GOPers fear trillion-dollar vote is inevitable Insiders dominate year of the outsider MORE (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) — voted no. 


This year, 200 House lawmakers have co-sponsored companion legislation, including 56 Republicans. 

Many Republican freshmen made taking a tough stand on China a prominent theme in their 2010 campaigns. However, it’s unlikely to hit the House floor any time soon.

That would give Reid and Schumer an opportunity to bash BoehnerJohn BoehnerRepublican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare The disorderly order of presidential succession MORE for refusing to act on a bipartisan jobs bill, countering criticism from the GOP that the Senate is a graveyard for a slew of House-passed bills. 

Boehner’s office did not comment for this article.

Obama has made a $447 billion jobs package his top legislative priority. Earlier this month, Obama urged Congress to pass his jobs bill “now.” Three weeks later, Reid has not yet scheduled a vote.

Obama also favors congressional ratification of trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. 

The president touted the trade pacts in a speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this month to loud Republican applause while Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stayed glued to their seats and refused to clap. 

Reid later said he is “not a big fan of free-trade agreements” and also noted that he and his colleagues had various concerns about the jobs package. 

The Nevada Democrat has promised to proceed with Obama’s legislative wish list, but only after the Senate considers the China bill, deftly using the Senate calendar to keep any possible opposition from the administration at bay. 

Reid said Monday evening that the China legislation would take priority. 

“I don’t think there’s anything more important for a jobs measure than China trade. That’s what we’re going to work on next week. China trade is a jobs bill. It’s long, long overdue,” he told reporters. “It’s a bipartisan bill, and I feel very comfortable we’re going to pass that.”

One Senate Democratic aide said the Obama administration would be wise not to take potshots at the legislation, knowing it will depend on Reid to pass the jobs package and the trade bills. 

Another Senate Democratic aide predicted the administration would steer clear of the issue regardless of Reid’s political maneuver because it does not want to oppose the popular bipartisan legislation. 

“Whatever reservations the administration may have about this bill, they realize how popular it is, and there is very little reason to vocally oppose it, even if privately they hope it doesn’t pass,” said the source. 

Democratic senators, such as Brown, the lead sponsor of the legislation, have repeatedly raised the China currency bill in conversations with senior administration officials. Labor leaders such as Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, have also made the case for the measure. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“At the highest levels, we have spoken to the White House and the secretary of Treasury,” said Robert Baugh, executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council. “They’re holding their cards pretty close to the vest.”

Baugh said Trumka has pressed Obama and Vice President Biden on the issue for years. Still, the White House has declined to take a public position on the legislation, which Democrats in Congress have interpreted as veiled opposition. 

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has noted the administration continues to urge Chinese officials to give the yuan more room to appreciate in value but has refused to call China out as a currency manipulator. 

An administration official told The Hill the White House is reviewing the legislation and has not yet taken a position.

The legislation would require the secretary of the Treasury and the U.S. Trade Representative to treat currency manipulation as an anti-competitive trade practice and take countervailing action to boost domestic companies. 

It would also set into motion government studies of international monetary policy and currency exchange rates. 

The Senate is scheduled to vote to proceed to the China currency legislation on Monday, and it is expected to pass the chamber next month with strong bipartisan support. The Republican co-sponsors include Sens. Richard BurrRichard BurrSenate rivals gear up for debates The Trail 2016: Trump seizes on Charlotte violence Polls: Dem Senate candidates lead in three states MORE (N.C.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSwing-state Republicans play up efforts for gun control laws Reid knocks GOP on gun 'terror loophole' after attacks GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamWeek ahead: Funding fight dominates Congress Overnight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas Senators buck spending bill over Export-Import Bank MORE (S.C.), Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump, Clinton discuss counterterrorism with Egyptian president GOP senators want immigration details on attack suspects GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (Ala.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine). 

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has also latched on to what could be a potent issue in the 2012 election. 

Romney unveiled a Web video in July accusing Obama of not following up on his campaign promise to “take China to the mat,” if necessary. 

A study released last week by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank, found that the U.S. lost an estimated 2.8 million jobs, mostly in the manufacturing sector, as a result of the nation’s trade deficit with China since China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001.