WASHINGTON Ninety-three U.S. lawmakers have signed a letter urging Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives to schedule a vote on a bill to get tough with China over its currency exchange rate practices, a lawmaker's office said on Monday.
Many members of Congress believe China undervalues its currency by as much as 40 percent to give Chinese companies an unfair price advantage in world trade.
With the U.S. unemployment rate at 9.6 percent and the U.S. trade deficit with China rising rapidly again this year, House Democratic leaders have come under growing pressure to address the concern.
"So far we have 93 members signed on to the letter," a spokeswoman for Representative Tim Ryan told Reuters in an e-mail ahead of congressional hearings this Wednesday and Thursday to examine what action if any the United States should take to deal with China's exchange rate policies.
Ryan is the lead Democratic sponsor of the Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, which the lawmakers said in their letter would allow the U.S. Commerce Department to impose countervailing and anti-dumping duties on "injurious imports from any country that persistently undervalues its currency."
He will testify on the bill on Wednesday, when the House Ways and Means Committees kicks off the first of two days of hearings on China's currency practices.
The panel will also hear from three other House lawmakers, as well as Leo Gerard, the president of the United Steelworkers union; Dan DiMicco, president of Nucor Corp, a top U.S. steel producer; and several trade policy experts.
On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will testify before both the Senate Banking Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee on China's currency.
Geithner and President Barack Obama have disappointed many in Congress by failing to formally label China a currency manipulator in three semi-annual Treasury Department reports since they Obama office in January 2009.
Lawmakers are expected to grill the Treasury chief on what the administration will say in the next report due on October 15 and whether it supports legislation to deal with the issue.
The yuan's appreciation has quickened in recent days, a move some analysts see as an effort by Beijing to calm the political waters in Congress.
However, it has still risen less than 1 percent since China loosened a peg to the dollar in June.
Lawmakers often circulate a letter to persuade the leadership to schedule a vote on a bill.
A Democratic aide said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still has not decided whether to set a vote on the bill, which is expected to irritate Beijing if it becomes law.
A group of senators led by Democrat Charles Schumer are also pushing for legislation. But efforts to deal with the issue in Congress have faltered in the past.
The letter crafted by Ryan and Representative Tim Murphy, the lead Republican sponsor, spells out why they think legislation is needed and defends it against charges it would put the United States in violation of global trade rules.
"The bill has been written to be consistent with U.S. rights and obligations under the agreements of the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund," the lawmakers said.
(Reporting by Doug Palmer; editing by Mohammad Zargham)