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For Obama, Ohio Is Ground Zero on China Trade Debate

(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama delivered a counter punch to GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s attacks on his China policy today, heading to manufacturing-heavy Ohio to tout a new trade action against Chinese auto parts subsidies and to blast Romney’s record on outsourcing.

“Now, I understand my opponent has been running around Ohio claiming he’s going to roll up his sleeves and take the fight to China,” Obama said. “But here’s the thing: His experience has been owning companies that were called ‘pioneers’ in the business of outsourcing jobs to countries like China.”

Obama said his administration has brought and won twice as many trade cases against China as the Bush administration did in two terms, including a case against Chinese tires that Romney criticized at the time.

“I like to walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” he said, accusing Romney of “taking advantage of unfair trade practices” while in business but talking tough with an election around the corner.

The new trade case claims illegal subsidies for Chinese-made auto parts, and comes a couple of months after the Obama administration launched a separate case on auto manufacturing.

“It’s not right, it’s against the rules and we will not let it stand,” Obama said, giving credit to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) for helping to raise the issue.

Romney in recent days has redoubled his attacks on Obama’s willingness to take on China over trade. Romney is trying to appeal to blue-collar voters in Ohio and elsewhere and he has promised a tougher policy, including labeling China a currency manipulator. The Obama administration, which has complained about the currency issue in talks with China, has stopped short of acting more forcefully because of fear of starting a full-fledged trade war.

“President Obama has spent 43 months failing to confront China’s unfair trade practices,” Romney said in a statement today. “Campaign-season trade cases may sound good on the stump, but it is too little, too late for American businesses and middle-class families.”

The Romney campaign also blasted Obama for attacking Romney’s record at Bain Capital, saying Romney did not ship jobs overseas when he was running the company.

“President Obama is recycling false and debunked attacks because he can’t tell the people of Ohio about his record of fewer jobs, more debt and lower incomes,” said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams.

And the Romney campaign pointed to criticism of Obama’s China policy from fellow Democrats, including Brown, and the use of stimulus money to buy foreign parts for wind turbines.

A number of Hill Democrats, including Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Brown, have criticized the administration for not getting tough enough on China’s currency.

However, both parties have been put into a pretzel on the issue. Even as Romney is pushing a get-tough-on-China policy, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has resisted the call to bring a Senate China currency bill to the House floor, even though it has bipartisan support. House and Senate Democrats have pushed Boehner to do so, but the White House has not. Nor has Romney.