Berkley backs bill threatening China sanctions

WASHINGTON -- A dispute with China over the management of its currency found a way Tuesday into the Nevada race for U.S. Senate.

In a House speech, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley spoke in favor of a bill that threatens sanctions against China over the value of the yuan. Democrats in Congress say an imbalance in the yuan against the dollar has contributed to the loss of from 500,000 to 2.25 million U.S. manufacturing jobs.

While supporting the bill, Berkley also scolded senators who sided against it on Monday in a procedural vote. One of them was Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., whom she is challenging in the 2012 election.

"Nineteen U.S. senators voted to protect China's interests instead of the interests of the workers of the state of Nevada," Berkley said. "I have one thing to say to those senators, shame on you. Now is not the time to cower to bullying tactics of the Chinese."

Berkley did not mention Heller by name but later scheduled a news conference for today to discuss his vote.

The focus on China is part of the Democrats' strategy to show action on jobs, although the bill does have support among some Republicans too. Others, including elements of the Obama administration, fear that poking China could provoke a trade war.

The Senate test vote was 79-19 for the China currency bill, and it is expected to pass this week. Its fate is unclear in the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday it could be "dangerous" to force China on the value of its currency.

The Chinese are accused of manipulating the value of the yuan, which makes their products cheaper to buy in the United States and U.S. products more expensive in China.

Some economists estimate the imbalance is equivalent to a 20 percent to 30 percent subsidy on Chinese exports to the United States.

President Barack Obama has not come out in support of the Democratic bill, and its effect may be only symbolic if he is reluctant to tangle with the U.S. trading partner.

Heller did not respond directly to Berkley's comments but said his views are in tune with Obama on the issue.

"For once I agree with the president: Trade wars do not create jobs," Heller said in a statement.

Heller also introduced an amendment with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that they want to add to the China currency bill, although it did not appear that any would be permitted for debate. It seeks to increase production of rare earth minerals deemed critical to the economy.

"At a time when Nevada is leading the country in unemployment, we need access to the natural resources in our backyard now more than ever," Heller said.