President Obama is still pressing Congress to pass his jobs-stimulus bill immediately, but Democratic Party leaders in the Senate once again have delayed taking a vote on the legislation and instead will take up a bill to punish China over its currency valuation.
Senators late Monday passed a bill to keep the government open into the next fiscal year and then adjourned for the rest of the week, but Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said when they return they’ll take up the China measure rather than Mr. Obama’s jobs plan.
“I don’t think there’s anything more important for a jobs measure than China trade,” said Mr. Reid, who is the chief Senate sponsor of Mr. Obama’s plan, but who said taking on China is a bigger priority right now.
Mr. Obama sees it differently.
During a three-day swing through the West this week, he has demanded Congress act, and even had wealthy donors at one event in West Hollywood, Calif., chanting “Pass the bill! Pass the bill!”
“Pass the jobs bill. I need your help to tell Congress to pass this jobs bill right now,” Mr. Obama said.
The president’s plan would combine $447 billion in temporary tax cuts and infrastructure spending over the next several years, which would be offset with permanent tax cuts that would raise $467 billion over the next decade.
While the tax cuts and spending have some support, there is bipartisan opposition to his tax increases, making that bill a tough sell in either chamber.
“We’ll get to that, but let’s get some of these things done that we have to get done first,” Mr. Reid said.
The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, declined to comment on the schedule.
The legislation Mr. Reid has placed ahead of the jobs bill is a bipartisan bill that combines the efforts of two other bipartisan bills to try to force China to increase the value of its currency, the yuan, compared with the U.S. dollar.
The bill would make it clear that the U.S. considers an undervalued currency an illegal manipulation, and that would trigger several punishments including halting federal procurement from those countries and imposing compensatory tariffs for goods from those countries.
Twenty senators, including five Republicans, have signed on to the bill. An earlier version has been introduced in the House, where it has 200 co-sponsors — many of them also members of the GOP.
“How much longer is Congress willing to stand by and watch thousands of jobs move to China?” said Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat who is chief sponsor of the Senate version. “Rhetoric has done little to solve the problem. We must equip the Obama administration with the tools it needs to crack down on China’s currency manipulation and help level the playing field for American businesses.”
A different version of the legislation passed the House in a lopsided 378-49 vote last year.
The issue even has popped up in the presidential campaign, where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is seeking the GOP’s nomination, said one of his first actions would be to declare China a currency manipulator. He called China one of “the cheaters” on international trade.
The Treasury Department hasn’t commented on the new proposal, but the White House is reportedly cool to the legislation. Presidents usually oppose efforts to force their hand.
Business groups are rallying against the bill. In a letter last week, a group of more than 50 business organizations said that while China must adjust its exchange rate, unilateral U.S. action won’t force China to change, and it could just ignite a trade war if China retaliates against U.S. exports.
“Most importantly, such a measure will not create significant new jobs here at home,” the groups said.
The bill’s backers, though, argue jobs are at stake. Robert E. Scott, an economist at the labor union-backed Economic Policy Institute, calculated that a full revaluation of the yuan, combined with revaluation of other Asian currencies that follow China’s lead, could produce up to 2.25 million jobs over 10 years in the U.S.
The Senate earlier this month passed a bill to extend trade adjustment assistance, which benefits those whose jobs have been lost as a result of international trade agreements. That move was a precursor to considering three free-trade agreements, which the Obama administration is holding but which Republicans are insisting the president submit to Congress.
House Republicans have said they will move the trade adjustment bill once they have the free-trade agreements in hand.
Meanwhile, on the president’s job plan, House GOP leaders have said they are waiting for an evaluation of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office and will then send the legislation through the committee process.
Republicans have said there are some ideas in Mr. Obama’s plan that they can accept, though they and some Democrats have rejected the tax increases Mr. Obama seeks — particularly the $400 billion he wants to raise over 10 years by limiting deductions for higher-income taxpayers.