The House of Representatives passed a package of trade measures yesterday and sent the bills into a conference with the Senate and toward a possible White House veto.
The package included a Democratic alternative to President Reagan's steel program that could force major steel companies to reinvest and modernize to gain import relief, and a bill protecting California wine makers and grape growers that brought threats of retaliation on other foreign products from the European community.
Also included in the bills passed by the House were measures strongly supported by the administration to establish free trade with Israel and extend duty-free treatment to products from developing countries.
Meanwhile, a highly contentious House-Senate conference remained at loggerheads all day in a last-ditch effort to report out legislation that would allow the president to control exports of strategic products and technology to Soviet bloc countries.
The conferees, who had been meeting over a five months span, broke up last evening without striking a deal on the issue of allowing the Pentagon to review export licenses for strategic sales to close allies and other Western and nonaligned nations as well as to the East bloc. But they agreed to try again this morning in the face of the upcoming congressional adjournment.
Four of five Senate conferees stood firm behind Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah) in insisting on a role for the Defense Department against pressure from the Reagan administration and a push by the House conferees to find some area of compromise.
Garn called it "an honest difference of opinion," but said he had yielded as much ground as he would "on this one issue, the most important to me."
On the House floor, a series of trade bills passed easily, and it appeared they would sail through the conference with the Senate, which already has passed a similar package.
The White House remained a stumbling block, however. Despite the administration's desire to see several of the measures enacted into law, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige sent a public message to Capitol Hill this week that some of the highly protectionist measures in the package could draw a presidential veto.
But U.S. Trade Reperesentative William E. Brock, who has been meeting this week with House and Senate trade specialists, indicated that he believes the most protectionist, and objectionable, measures will be erased in conference.
Some of the provisions Baldrige singled out as protectionist, however, are contained in both House and Senate bills, making it difficult to knock them out in conference. These include a provision of the wine bill and one passed by the House earlier that could place higher duties on Mexican cement because it is made with oil sold domestically at less than the international price.
A controversial provision of the watered-down wine bill would allow growers of grapes, as the principal raw agricultural product in wine, to bring unfair trade cases against European competitors. That provision was kept in the bill in a key 239-to-178 vote. Opponents of the measure, mainly from wheat- and soybean-producing states, said it is likely to draw retaliation against their exports from the Europeans.
But California wine makers and grape growers argued that the Europeans heavily subsidize their grapes and that the measure is needed to allow the American manufacturers to compete on equal footing.
The steel measure, sponsored by House Ways and Means Commitee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), passed 285 to 134 on a largely party-line vote, with some Republicans from steel-producing districts crossing over to join the Democratic majority.
The bill, which has no Senate equivalent, aims at reducing steel imports to 17 percent of the American market. This compares to the 18.5 percent goal of the president's program, announced last month, and the present steel import level of about 25 percent.
Of all the measures passed yesterday, the one creating the Israel free trade had the easiest time. It sailed through the House 416 to 6.
The House also voted to extend the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for another five years. The GSP gives Third World nations duty-free treatment to help their economic development. Before passing the bill, the House rejected, 233-174, an amendment by Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) that would have excluded Taiwan, Hong Kong and Korea -- the top three GSP users, who are responsible for more than half of all imports under the program -- from the list of countries eligible for GSP.