The House Armed Services Committee has entered the congressional debate over Western sales of "critical" technology to the Soviet bloc in an apparent move to stiffen legislation currently under consideration by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
A special panel of the Armed Services Committee headed by Rep. Earl Hutto (D-Fla.) will begin hearings early next month emphasizing the national security implications of the transfer of high technology to the Soviets and their allies. It will also consider what enforcement authority over sensitive exports should remain with the Department of Commerce or be shifted either to the Customs Service or the Defense Department.
Some Armed Services Committee members, echoing the view of many in the Pentagon including Assistant Defense Secretary Richard N. Perle, believe the Foreign Affairs Committee bill renewing the Export Administration Act tilts too far to the side of American commercial interests by encouraging overseas sales at the expense of national security needs.
"Most people discussing it, while concerned about national security, have a bias toward trade," said one congressional aide.
Perle, a long-time hardliner on trade with the Soviet bloc, called the bill currently being marked up in the House Foreign Affairs Committee "badly unbalanced" in favor of business interests.
"What has happened in the House so far," continued Perle, "is a failure to reconcile the interests of the business community and the interests of national security. National security has been subordinated to some narrow, parochial views of the business community. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is essentially endorsing a bill that has been written by private commercial interests," especially high-tech companies "who want to export even if it means the weakening of national security," he added.
The Foreign Affairs Committee has begun consideration of a bill approved by its subcommittee on international economic policy and trade, headed by Rep. Don Bonker (D-Wash.), which omits some of the Reagan administration's proposals for tough controls on East bloc trade, including provisions that are strongly opposed by American business groups and the United States' closest allies in the Western alliance. The committee will continue its deliberations Wednesday.
The Senate Banking Committee will begin hearings the same day on its version of the legislation, which, though closer to the administration proposal, still is not as tough as the White House asked. "I expect better balance in the Senate" than the House, said Perle.