House Republicans, citing a "need for new direction in U.S. trade policy," yesterday introduced their own bill to counter Democratic efforts to make the record trade deficit into a partisan political issue.
"Protecting existing jobs and creating new jobs is at the heart of this proposal," said Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), echoing the Democrats' theme that surging imports have caused job losses.
The Republican bill offers a broad-brush approach to easing the record U.S. trade deficit, expected to soar to $150 billion this year. It calls for an international monetary conference to stabilize currency rates; raises the possibility of a summit meeting on trade; would tighten laws against unfair trade practices that increase imports and thwart U.S. sales overseas; and offers Japan the chance to buy Alaskan oil in exchange for large increases in Japanese purchases of U.S. farm products and manufactured goods.
The GOP bill, however, lacks some elements of Democratic proposals that the White House has found most objectionable, especially a measure that would impose a 25 percent surcharge on imports from countries with large trade surpluses that refuse to open their markets to U.S. products. Rep. Don Sundquist (R-Tenn.) attacked that bill as "a good press release but lousy legislation."
The GOP measure drew partial support from U.S. Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter, who said it "is in large part complementary and supportive of the president's approach" and "preferable to most other trade legislation" before Congress. He objected, however, to provisions that limit presidential flexibility on unfair trade complaints, but promised to work with the House Republicans to fashion language the administration can support.
"No new trade initiative will survive the legislation process or be signed into law" without cooperation between the administration and Congress, said Michel, indicating a willingness to work with the White House.
Michel long has opposed what he considered the Reagan administration's refusal to act on the trade deficit, which was blamed for high unemployment and factory closings in his district in Peoria, Ill. He said a brushfire of congressional action on trade following the August recess caused the White House to change its stance.
The House Republican bill goes far beyond what the administration had been willing as recently as this summer to accept, including its proposal to call an international monetary conference. But it also gives strong endorsement to a "Reagan Round" of global trade talks to strengthen the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which the president is pushing despite strong opposition from Third World nations, led by Brazil, India and Yugoslavia.
The hardest part of the bill for the White House to accept are provisions that would weaken the president's ability to overrule recommendations by the International Trade Commission for quotas or tariffs. Reagan's refusal to accept ITC recommendations for trade relief for American shoe manufacturers this summer intensified congressional pressure for trade action.
The GOP measure would also go further than the administration in offering assistance for American workers who lose their jobs because of imports.
Yeutter showed that the White House remains strongly opposed to protectionist legislation by registering strong opposition to a bill with bipartisan support that would sharply curtail textile imports.
He told Sens. John Heinz (R-Pa.), George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) and Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) that the bill, which is scheduled for House consideration today, faces an almost certain veto by President Reagan, even though it is cosponsored by more than half the Senate and two-thirds of the House.