The House yesterday overwhelmingly passed a resolution authorizing the president to negotiate restrictions on imports of Japanese cars and light trucks, despite claims the legislation is just another bailout for Detroit and a burden on consumers.
The Senate is expected to quickly take up the legislation before the 96th Congress adjourns this week. Sen. Donald W. Riegle (D. Mich.) will attempt to have the measure, which passed the House 317 to 57, go directly to the Senate floor today, according to an aide.
But Sen. Aldai E. Stevenson (D-Ill.) may try to block any plans to expedite consideration of the measure. A spokesman for the senator said last night that Stevenson "has very serious concern about the adverse consequences of protectionism," and the proposal could cause "more inflation, more unemployment." He said Stevenson thought the measure was being rushed through congress without enough consideration. "He intends to see to it that it won't be rushed through," said the spokesman, who did not explain how Stevenson planned to stop it.
In that case, the proposal probably will be debated by the Senate Finance Committee, which may "immediately send it back out" to the full Senate.
The legislation, pushed through during the last days of the session at the urging of Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers union, would authorize the president to negotiate and implement an agreement with the Japanese to limit the sale of their cars and trucks here. Ford and the UAW contend that Japanese imports are the cause of high unemployment and low profitability in the U.S. auto industry.
But opponents of the measure said it would circumvent current trade laws, raise the prices of domestic and foreign automobiles, add very few auto industry jobs and act as a bailout to the auto industry. Opponents claim the auto industry problems are caused by mismanagement, high gasoline prices and consumers' dislike for the large cars which were the mainstay of the U.S. auto industry.
"What it means is all the big guys can come in and do what Ford did, come in and rattle a tin cup and plead poverty," said Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.) during the House Ways and Means Committee hearing yesterday morning.
The committee said it will emphasize in its report that Detroit use any benefits from the legislation to keep wages "from the president to the janitor" at low levels and invest in this country and not in foreign production. But Frenzel said "we really have no assurances that the extra burden, the extortion, is going to be manifested in improvements to the auto industry "a crutch, then a wheelchair, then a motorized vehicle," he said. "The sin of the Japanese was they built a good quality automobile at a reasonable price."
The committee sent the measure to the House floor by a 28-to-4 vote.