WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Republican in the U.S. Congress highlighted a policy rift Thursday with his party’s presidential hopeful when he reiterated his opposition to using legislation to press China to revalue its currency.
Staking out a position in contrast to the hawkish views of Mitt Romney, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, who has opposed repeated efforts in recent years to pass laws that would put tariffs on Chinese goods unless it allowed the yuan to appreciate, told reporters he still felt the same way.
“There’s a way to deal with this problem and a way not to deal with it. Congress passing a law outlining stringent requirements for dealing with the Chinese and the value of the currency, I think is inappropriate,” Boehner said.
Earlier this week, Lanhee Chen, the Romney campaign policy director, issued a blistering statement in which she said President Barack Obama, a Democrat, had “lost all credibility on China and trade” for among many things, failing to label China a currency manipulator despite his 2008 campaign pledge to do so.
“What message does it send the Chinese when President Obama refuses to even formally acknowledge that they are in fact manipulating their currency?” Chen wrote.
Romney has made “standing up to China” a centerpiece of his campaign along with reducing the deficit and ending “job-killing regulations, putting it on his “day one” list in ads entitled “what would a Romney presidency be like.”
This has put him at odds not only with Boehner but with much of the Republican party’s big business constituency.
Though promises to stand up to China have become standard fare in political campaigns, the last U.S. administration to label China a currency manipulator was that of Democrat Bill Clinton in July, 1994.
A symbolic move, the label only requires Washington to open discussions with Beijing.
Many U.S. lawmakers argue China has gained a competitive edge over American manufacturers by keeping the yuan weak to boost exports, and Romney has vowed to slap a “currency manipulator” label on China if he wins the White House.
Obama’s Treasury Department said in a semiannual report on May 25 that labeling China a currency manipulator under U.S. law was not warranted, noting that the yuan has risen against the dollar, China’s trade surplus has dropped and Beijing has committed to further currency reforms.
Boehner, asked at a news conference about Romney’s stance on China’s currency, indicated he supported the Treasury Department stance, which long predates the Obama administration.
“Every administration for the last 15 years has worked with the Chinese central bank and the Chinese government to get them to revalue their currency and if you’ve watched, the value of their currency has continued to come up,” he said.
“More work needs to be done,” he added, and played down suggestions of any gulf with Romney.
“There’s no differences here in terms of the need to solve the problem, it’s just a matter of how best to solve the problem,” Boehner said.
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Paul Eckert; Editing by Fred Barbash and Paul Simao