Rep. Don Bonker (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Democratic trade task force, yesterday asked House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.) to form a special committee to push a comprehensive trade bill through Congress.
Bonker said Congress has reached a bipartisan consensus on the shape of trade legislation, but is unable to move because of its cumbersome procedures and overlapping committee jurisdictions.
"The process is not adequate to deal with a bill of this magnitude," Bonker told a breakfast meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Things bog down."
A spokesman for O'Neill withheld comment, saying that the speaker had not yet received Bonker's letter.
Bonker's message cited the energy crisis of the mid-'70s as a precedent for the formation of an ad hoc committee to set a timetable for House action on trade and to act as a traffic cop sorting out overlapping committee jurisdictions.
Congress has failed to act on trade legislation during the past two months despite considerable initial momentum. Members came roaring back to Washington after the August recess full of fire over record trade deficits.
At that time, Republicans and Democrats in Congress challenged President Reagan, asserting the trade deficit was a greater legislative priority than the White House push for tax overhaul.
Nonetheless, even a bill cosponsored by more than two-thirds of the House and half the Senate that would sharply curtail textile imports has become bogged down in a procedural morass. It passed the House, but the threat of a filibuster has kept it from full Senate consideration.
The House Ways and Means Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over trade bills, has moved away from the issue. As soon as it cleared the textile measure for floor action, it began drafting its own tax overhaul proposal to match the one proposed by the White House.
Bonker's proposal is likely to be opposed by Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), who is engaged in a battle with House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) to succeed O'Neill when the speaker retires next year. The Ways and Means Committee, moreover, is involved in a jurisdictional battle over trade with the Energy and Commerce Committee headed by Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).
The Reagan administration blunted the congressional pressure on trade by moving quickly in September to give the issue new prominence and adopt a more aggressive stance on the deficit and the overvalued dollar.