WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of senators hammered China as a nation of "cheaters" Wednesday and laid down a challenge to House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama to get tougher on the Asian powerhouse.
A day after the Senate mustered a rare bipartisan vote to pass a bill targeting Chinese currency manipulation, the measure's sponsors accused U.S. leaders of being cowed by Chinese threats of a trade war.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) compared the passage of the Senate bill aimed a China to throwing rocks at dogs, and said the United States should be prepared to stand tall when the Asian nation barks back.
"Of course they're going to complain. They're going to squeal when we do something as dramatic, as bold and as important as we did last night," Brown said.
"There's an old Ohio saying: When you throw a rock at a pack of dogs, the one that squeals is the one you hit," Brown said. "Of course they squealed, of course they were unhappy with this. That's going to be their reaction: to try and intimidate American politicians."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) argued that pushing back at China is the only way the United States has gotten the leaders there to allow the value of its currency to rise. Graham said it matters because if China's money is valued 25 percent to 40 percent less than it should be, Chinese products cost that much less, giving China a huge edge that's cost the U.S. an estimated 2 million jobs over the last decade or so.
And it's now up to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama to lead the push-back.
"It's very important that the House Republican leadership allow a vote on this legislation," Graham said. "I am confident that if it came to the floor of the House, 350 votes are most likely to be had there."
He also argued that President Obama vowed to get tough on the currency issue when he was running for office. "To the president: We need you. Now is the time to lead," Graham said.
Obama said recently that his administration had concerns with the Senate bill. Boehner is one of the officials who have said the measure could spark a trade war.
"The speaker of the House is suggesting he won't take up the the Senate-passed legislation. He called it dangerous," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "The only thing that's dangerous would be to continue turning the other cheek while China mounts its assault on U.S. manufacturing, U.S. jobs and U.S. wealth."
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) added a quote from GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney. "I certainly don't want a trade war with anybody, but we don't have to have a trade surrender either," Sessions repeated.
For Graham, who declared that China "cheats at every turn," the idea that America's top officials would shy away from the fight was almost more disturbing than China doing what it does.
"To John Boehner, a very good friend; to [House Majority Leader] Eric Cantor: I'm not worried about the Chinese response, because at the end of the day they need us as much as we need them -- if not more so," he said. "I'm worried about the idea that American politicians are going to let threats coming from China stop what I think is a rational approach to dealing with this."
Schumer, who has focused on the currency issue since 2004, said the senators would not let it drop.
"The bottom line is we're not going to let this issue die, whether it's Speaker Boehner or President Obama or anybody else," Schumer said.