The trade winds are blowing and currency is in the air.
Members of Congress from both chambers — and both sides of the aisle — got to work today in an effort to ensure currency manipulation is addressed in future foreign trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
President Obama desperately wants Trade Promotion Authority to conclude the 11-country trade pact in the Pacific, but Congress is asking for something in return.
Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) introduced legislation to give American manufacturers and workers the tools they need to fight back against the currency pirates that are stealing American jobs. As Sen. Burr noted:
“With more U.S. jobs at stake every year, we must stand up to protect Americans from unfair trade practices by countries who fight dirty via currency manipulation. This legislation to hold those countries accountable is long overdue."
On the other side of the Capitol, Reps. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), and Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) dropped similar legislation and outlined a strategy to fight for American jobs in the TPP.
The president has said publicly that he’s not interested in tackling currency issues in the TPP. And his deputies, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, have done a masterful job redirecting inquiries from Congress — despite the fact that 230 House Members and 60 Senators asked for their attention.
The stage is now set for a TPA showdown on currency — and the president’s biggest opponent might just be Barack Obama himself.
That’s because back in 2008, then-Sen. Obama called President Bush a patsy for not getting tougher on China for its massive and sustained currency manipulation:
It wasn’t the first time Sen. Obama spoke up against currency manipulation, either. In 2007, he wrote to then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson:
“Refusing to acknowledge this problem will not make it go away. … The Administration’s refusal to take strong action against China’s currency manipulation will also make it more difficult to obtain congressional approval for renewed Trade Promotion Authority, as well as additional trade agreements.”
Now, as the U.S. trade deficit with China rose to $342 billion in 2014, and our trade deficit with Japan hit 78.3 billion, Obama seems uninterested in pursuing the issue.
What does Congress know that the president doesn’t (or wants to ignore)?
- The Members of Congress sponsoring these bills represent states with 3.2 million manufacturing workers, over a quarter of all manufacturing jobs in the U.S.;
- They know that currency manipulation is driving these massive trade deficits;
- They know that we have already lost as many as 5 million American jobs due to inaction;
- They know that once they give Obama TPA, they concede the ability to modify any trade agreements brought before them.
These Senators and Representatives understand that if TPP does nothing to end currency manipulation, it will be an empty agreement.
The legislation wasn’t the only currency talk happening on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. At an event hosted by Reps. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), Rosa DeLauro (D-N.Y.), and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), panelists from the U.S. auto industry and the AFL-CIO agreed that no amount of “market access” can make up for the free-fall of the yen, which dropped 35 percent over the last two years.
America’s auto sector, newly back from the brink, must now compete with the Bank of Japan in addition to Toyota and Nissan.
Now is the time to take action. Kudos to the champions for American jobs on Capitol Hill. It’s up to us to get that message to the White House.