The House of Representatives yesterday approved stiff limits on imports of textiles, clothing and shoes, but the measure failed to win enough votes to override a certain veto.
The vote was 263 to 156 in favor of the quota bill. That indicated a loss of support since a year ago, when the House failed by seven votes to override the president's veto of a tougher bill to protect the domestic textile, footwear and copper industries from imports.
It takes 290 votes to assure victory in an override battle. The 156 negative votes yesterday are 10 more than opponents would need to ensure a veto would be sustained.
"I'm very pleased with the outcome of the vote. I feel I won," said Rep. Sam Gibbons (D-Fla.), who led the debate against the bill. "There's just no way they can" override a veto, he said.
"I think the Senate would be wasting its time to take up a bill like this," Gibbons added. A Senate version has been reported out by the Finance Committee, but no floor vote has been scheduled.
U.S. Trade Representative Clayton K. Yeutter called the bill "public policymaking at its worst," but said "the failure of the textile bill proponents to muster enough votes to override a presidential veto represents a victory for a responsible trade policy."
"We don't see any groundswell of support for the textile bill," added Acting Commerce Secretary Bruce Smart.
Nonetheless, John Gregg, chairman of the Fiber, Fabric and Apparel Coalition for Trade, called the vote an "impressive victory ... that we can build on" to override a veto.
Rep. Ed Jenkins (D-Ga.), a leading supporter of the measure, said he wasn't disappointed, "but I'm not kidding myself. ... Going up against the president is a tough job."
The bill, watered down from last year's measure in the hopes of gaining added support in the House, would limit the growth of textile and clothing imports to 1 percent a year and restrict shoe imports to last year's levels.
In addition, the measure covers all countries, including Canada and Western Europe, and not just Third World suppliers as last year's bill did. The 1986 version also sought to roll back textile imports.
Supporters of the measure argued that the restrictions are needed to save American jobs that have been lost to imports, which have increased by about 17 percent a year since 1981. Industry sources said 400,000 U.S. textile jobs have been lost in the last six years while the number of American shoe workers dropped from 135,000 in 1980 to 78,000 last year.
"We have hard-working people who are threatened by a flood of imports, and this bill would help them," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
Rep. Butler Derrick (D-S.C.), the prime sponsor of the bill, acknowledged that "this legislation is protectionist, but the countries of the world decided some time ago that their domestic textile industries needed protection."
But Rep. Donald Pease (D-Ohio), who generally goes along with labor-supported legislation, opposed this bill because, he said, it would break trade agreements and would lead to retaliation that could cost more jobs in other industries than it would save for textile and shoe workers.
Pacific Northwest lawmakers were unanimous in their opposition, arguing that retaliation by other countries would hurt farmers and industries in their area, and Rep. Phillip M. Crane (R-Ill.) said that domestic textile industry profits show that it does not need import protection.
Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) of the Ways and Means Committee strongly opposed the measure, saying it went against many of the open-market, fair-trade principles that the House supported earlier this year in its omnibus trade bill.
He said the bill "invokes the same kind of trade policy we find so offensive in other nations."