* Lawmakers begin new drive for yuan bill in House, Senate
* House passed measure last year ahead of election
* Key Republican says currency bill not a top priority
* White House has not taken public stance on bill
(Adds details, background)
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, Feb 10 A bipartisan group of 101
U.S. lawmakers in the House of Representatives launched a new
bid on Thursday to pass legislation aimed at pressuring China
to let its yuan currency rise in value.
The same proposals cleared the House last year but died in
the Senate. If approved this time, they would clear the way for
the Commerce Department to treat currencies deemed to be
undervalued as an illegal subsidy under U.S. trade law.
That would allow companies, on a case-by-case basis, to
seek higher countervailing duties against imports from China
that compete with U.S. production.
U.S. congressional anger at China over what lawmakers see
as deliberate undervaluation of the yuan, also called the
renminbi, was fanned anew last Friday by a Treasury Department
decision not to declare China a currency manipulator.
"What we are doing is adding weapons" to the U.S.
government's arsenal of tools to deal with currency
manipulation, said Representative Sander Levin, a Michigan
Democrat who spearheaded last year's drive for the bill when he
was still chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said he and
Senator Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, were introducing a
similar bill in the Senate.
"Currency manipulation plain and simple is a form of
subsidy ... When China manipulates its currency, that's not
competing, that's cheating," Brown said.
Final U.S. trade figures for 2010 due out on Friday are
expected to show the trade deficit with China surpassed the
record of $268 billion set in 2008.
Chinese President Hu Jintao faced pressure on the issue
when he visited Washington last month, but Beijing has said it
would move at its own pace to revalue the yuan.
The new U.S. push came as China's central banks appeared to
send a strong signal that the government was more willing to
let its yuan currency appreciate by fixing its daily mid-point
trading range at a record high 6.5849 to the dollar.
The yuan CNY=CFXS closed at 6.5865 against the dollar, up
from 6.5938 on Wednesday. It has now risen 3.64 percent since
China ceased pegging its value to the dollar in June 2010.
UNFAIR TRADE ADVANTAGE
However, U.S. critics say it is still undervalued by as
much as 15 percent to 40 percent, giving Chinese companies an
unfair advantage in international trade.
With congressional elections looming, the House passed the
Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act in September by a wide
margin of 348-79. But the Senate never took up the measure and
it died when Congress adjourned at the end of the year.
Republicans won control of the House in the November
elections and the new leadership team has made clear passing a
China currency bill is not on their to-do list this year.
Any House bill aimed at China's exchange rate practices
would have to start in the Ways and Means Committee, where
Michigan Republican Dave Camp is now chairman.
"This particular bill is not Chairman Camp's primary focus
or priority when it comes to China relations," a spokesman for
Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee said.
President Barack Obama's administration never took a public
position on last year's bill and a top Treasury Department
official on Thursday shed little light on its views.
Asked about the new push in Congress, Treasury Under
Secretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard said
lawmakers had the same goals as the administration --
eliminating the yuan's undervaluation.
However, she said that the administration has "different
means and mechanisms than Congress to pursue these goals."
(Additional reporting by Rachelle Younglai; editing by Philip