By Doug Palmer
A coalition of U.S. steel manufacturers and other business groups urged the Senate on Tuesday to pass legislation in coming weeks to pressure China to raise the value of its currency.
"The Fair Currency Coalition believes it is imperative that the Senate help Main Street America by counteracting currency undervaluation by China and any other country engaging in this mercantilist practice. The time for action is now," the group said in a letter to each member of the Senate.
The group, which also includes textile producers and other domestic manufacturers that compete with imports from China, urged the Senate to pass a bill approved by the House of Representatives in late September.
In addition, two co-authors of the House bill released their own letter urging Democratic and Republican Senate leaders to agree to schedule a vote on the bill.
"With nearly 15 million Americans out of work, it is vitally important that Congress act now to give the administration the necessary tools that will put a stop to China's currency manipulation," Representatives Tim Murphy, a Republican, and Tim Ryan, a Democrat, said.
Congress has returned for a post-election session that is likely to focus mainly on government spending and whether to extend tax cuts passed during the administration of former President George W. Bush.
Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said earlier on Tuesday that senators would discuss whether to vote on currency legislation, but no decision had been made.
The House bill would die if not passed by the Senate before lawmakers adjourn for the year. Proponents of currency legislation would have to start from scratch after a new Congress is seated in January.
Republicans won control of the House in November elections and reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate, and they may not be as supportive of the measure.
The bill passed by the House would clarify that the Commerce Department has the authority under current law to apply countervailing duties against countries with significantly undervalued currencies.
It is directed mainly at China, which many economists and lawmakers believe deliberately undervalues its currency by as much as 15 percent to 40 percent.
"The bill is a targeted remedy that sends an across-the-board message. Enactment of the bill would have a positive impact on the U.S. economy without incurring any new public debt or significant budgetary expenditures," the Fair Currency Coalition said.
Many other business groups, such as the U.S.-China Business Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, oppose the House bill. They agree that China's currency is undervalued, but say passing the legislation could backfire on the United States. They recommend diplomatic pressure to get Beijing to move. (Reporting by Doug Palmer; Editing by Philip Barbara)