Reagan administration proposals to tighten controls over East-West trade ran into stiff opposition yesterday from key Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which appeared headed toward another major foreign policy confrontation with the president.
Committee Chairman Clement J. Zablocki (D-Wis.) suggested that the White House's proposed revisions in the Export Administration Act places the United States in the role of "bully on the street" rather than leader of the free world.
Nonetheless, Commerce Undersecretary Lionel Olmer defended the administration bill as plowing a "middle path" between twin administration goals of promoting U.S. exports while protecting national security and foreign policy interests. He called the proposal a necessary instrument for the president "to exercise U.S. influence and express U.S. disapproval by a means short of military action."
At the same time, Olmer denounced as "unacceptable" a subcommittee version reported to the full committee that eliminates the most controversial administration proposals to control exports, including one that would extend U.S. law to foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies. While these proposals have drawn the ire of America's European allies, Olmer said curtailing presidential authority "would be a serious mistake."
He applauded some of the changes made by the subcommittee, but said others, if passed, "could have serious national security and foreign policy consequences" and pleaded with the committee to give the president "authority to respond rapidly and swiftly to international situations."
Olmer did not appear to win much sympathy, even from the Republicans on the committee. And Chairman Don Bonker (D-Wash.) of the Foreign Affairs' subcommittee on international economic policy and trade, which reported the revised bill to the full committee Wednesday, said he is "disappointed" that the administration is sticking to its original proposals.
He called the present law "the most serious impediment to our relations with European countries at the present moment" and said it is weakening efforts within the Western alliance to control the flow of strategically valuable technology to the East bloc. He said the administration's proposals mark "a sad day" for exporters, who have mobilized strong forces against the bill because they say it hampers U.S. efforts to sell overseas.
The European Economic Community delivered to the State Department two strongly worded diplomatic notes opposing the administration proposals, while other allies have registered objections in private meetings with administration officials.
The second- and third-ranking members of the committee, Dante B. Fascell (D-Fla.) and Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), said they were irked by both the Carter and Reagan administrations for ignoring requirements to consult with Congress when the law was invoked to block grain sales to the Soviet Union after the invasion of Afghanistan and to try to stop the Soviet natural gas pipeline to Western Europe during the Polish crisis.
Hamilton said those examples of "very little regard for Congress and total disregard of the law" diminished the impact of Olmer's offer to work with the committee to draft a bill more acceptable to the administration.
Zablocki placed the bill on a fast track, with committee work set to be finished within 10 days so it can move quickly to the House floor. Committee Democrats indicated the Bonker version was unlikely to undergo drastic changes within the committee--which already has challenged the Reagan administration with the nuclear freeze resolution passed by the full House Wednesday over the strong objections of the president.
Moreover, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence sparked another foreign policy confrontation with the White House when it voted Tuesday to cut off covert aid to guerrillas fighting the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.