Legislation to punish China for its alleged currency manipulation cleared a critical US Senate hurdle on Thursday and seemed on track for final passage later in the day despite stiff opposition from Beijing.
Lawmakers voted 62-38 to end debate on the measure, barely clearing a 60-vote requirement, as supporters promised the bill would help the brittle US economy create much-needed jobs and narrow the country's yawning trade deficit with China.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he aimed for a final vote later in the day, despite opposition from an unusual alliance comprising China, the US business community, the White House, and its Republican foes.
The measure calls or making it easier for US businesses to seek formal probes into alleged currency manipulation, and envisions retaliatory duties on the exports of countries whose money is unfairly "misaligned."
Few in Washington dispute the charge that China keeps the yuan unfairly low against the dollar, giving its goods as much as a 30 percent edge over comparable US products, widening the US trade deficit and costing American jobs.
But the measure's opponents warn that it risks sparking a trade war with China, and say a rise in the yuan will boost manufacturing and therefore jobs in countries like Vietnam or Malaysia -- not in the United States.
Reid held out hopes that the Senate would pass the measure, sending it to the Republican-held House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner has signaled the "dangerous" legislation will die.
House aides say it could return to life if China's currency somehow became a core dispute as President Barack Obama faces off with his as-yet undetermined Republican foe ahead of the November 2012 elections.
That contest is sure to turn on deep voter anger at the sour economy's sluggish recovery from the global meltdown of 2007-2008, with stubbornly high unemployment of over nine percent a drag on Obama's bid for a second term.