North Country Congressman Bill Owens took aim at House Republican leadership Tuesday for failing to bring a bill targeting Chinese currency manipulation to the floor for a vote.
Owens, the Democrat representing New York's 23rd Congressional District, said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was wrong to describe the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act as "pretty dangerous."
The legislation overwhelmingly passed the House last year by a vote of 348 to 79; similar legislation passed a procedural hurdle in the Senate on Monday.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens
(Enterprise file photo)
Owens said the bill would help American businesses by treating undervalued currencies as a prohibited subsidy, which the World Trade Organization defines as "subsidies that require recipients to meet certain export targets, or to use domestic goods instead of imported goods."
"A subsidy related to a trade partnership would be basically preferential treatment because their (China's) currency is not doing well," said Sean Magers, spokesman for Owens.
Owens said the legislation would let the U.S. take action to counter the undervaluing of China's currency. According to numbers provided by his staff and compiled by the Economic Policy Institute, if China revalued the yuan by 28.5 percent, gross domestic product growth in the U.S. would support more than 1.6 million jobs.
Some 2.8 million American jobs were last over the last decade because of the nation's trade deficit with China, Owens said.
"The real danger that Congress should be focused on is the continued exporting of quality American jobs overseas," he said in a prepared statement. "It is irresponsible for Speaker Boehner to refuse to allow an up-or-down vote on bipartisan legislation that will put an end to Chinese currency manipulation, grow jobs within our borders and keep Americans employed."
Owens said Boehner needs to address the legislation in order to establish a level playing field for American businesses. He said the Chinese government is influencing markets to suppress the value of its currency by up to 40 percent.
"Fair trade is critical to economic growth in Upstate New York, and when one country artificially deflates its currency to gain leverage on a capitalist world market, there is nothing fair about it," Owens said.
But a potential challenger to Owens in next year's congressional election says the bill could spark a "trade war" with China.
Watertown businessman and Republican Matt Doheny, a former Wall Street financier who narrowly lost to Owens in 2010, said in an emailed statement Tuesday that Owens is "out of his depth.
"The bill is another anti-business measure that will result in higher prices for North Country consumers," Doheny said. "It will also limit markets for our North Country farmers and businesses, or force their prices so high in those markets that they would not be competitive."
Doheny said the bill amounts to a stimulus plan for Asia and South America. He also compared it to retaliatory tariffs that some economists have blamed for triggering the Great Depression in the U.S.
"Instead of punitive measures, we need to work with China directly and through the World Trade Organization to make sure their currency is freely valued without intervention on the open market," he said.
On Wednesday, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., announced that a similar bill is on track to pass in the Senate. He said upstate New York has lost nearly 75,000 jobs in the last decade - including 7,200 in the 20th Congressional District and nearly 3,600 in the 23rd - to unfair Chinese trade practices.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.