Partisan gridlock still reigns on Capitol Hill, but there's one thing lawmakers agree on — trade penalties for China.
The House easily approved legislation Tuesday to grant the Commerce Department the right to continue imposing higher tariffs on goods from China and other countries that subsidize their exports to the United States. The measure passed with broad bipartisan support on a vote of 370 to 39.
A day earlier, the Senate passed the bill on a voice vote without debate.
"China is tilting the field of competition by not playing by the rules," said Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. "This bill restores a key instrument for our nation to hold China accountable."
Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, agreed.
"China distorts the free market by giving enormous subsidies to its producers and exporters, and our companies and workers should not be expected to compete against the deep pockets of the Chinese government," he said.
The legislation came after a federal appellate court ruled in December that the Commerce Department didn't have the legal authority to impose the duties because Congress had never explicitly given the agency that right.
Commerce has been applying these "countervailing" duties since 2007. The legislation ensures that 24 existing higher-tariff orders and six pending investigations against imports from China and Vietnam will continue to be valid. Of those 24, 23 are directed at Chinese subsidies.
The duties are allowed under World Trade Organization rules to counteract unfair subsidies used by countries, such as China and Vietnam, that have yet to fully adopt market economies.
The Obama administration pushed hard for the legislation, predicting its absence "would have substantial adverse economic implications for our country."
"The administration stands ready to work with Congress to enact [the] legislation," said Commerce Secretary John E. Bryson and U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk in a joint letter to Mr. Camp and Mr. Levin in January. "This matter is of the utmost urgency."
The Senate took the unusual step of passing the House version as its own before the lower chamber voted on it. The maneuver allows the legislation to be sent directly to the White House for the president's signature.
The anti-tax group Club for Growth opposed the measure, saying the tariffs would increase the cost of imports and hurt U.S. consumers and businesses.
"Countervailing duties are defended as a remedy to 'unfair trade,' but the government gives no consideration to the U.S. businesses that rely on cheap imports to make their own final product," the group said.
But the National Association of Manufacturers strongly supported the bill, saying that U.S. manufacturers would be negatively affected and that thousands of jobs would be put at risk if the bill isn't signed into law.
"In order to compete against our global competition, manufacturers in the United States need a fair and level playing field," said NAM Vice President of International Economic Affairs Frank Vargo.
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