PERHAPS THE TEXTILE BILL, on which the House is to vote today, will turn out to be nothing more than a gesture. But it's a thoroughly bad bill with -- for all the wrong reasons -- a lot of support, and it would be a mistake to assume that it will be left in a corner to wilt and die. It comes to the floor of the House, as it shortly will in the Senate, under an agreement struck last winter. The textile lobbyists got a promise of a vote on their bill if they refrained from attaching it to the larger trade bill now in conference. The managers of the trade bill were anxious to avoid the charge of favoritism toward selected industries that the textile bill enthusiastically represents.
The textile industry neither needs nor deserves more help. It is already prospering -- behind a high wall of protection against imports. Over the past generation, under American leadership, governments have negotiated an intricate system of curbing the embarrassingly competitive flow of textiles and clothes from the poor countries into the rich ones. A year ago, in the latest renegotiation, the Reagan administration achieved for domestic textile producers the most comprehensive array of import controls since World War II. But the textile industry keeps crying that the negotiated quotas aren't good enough, and that Congress must override them with even more restrictive legislation.
The administration points out that American textile production is up, unemployment in the industry is falling, and imports seem to be leveling off. In that case, why so much momentum behind the bill? The industry simply reasons that if tight quotas bring prosperity, tighter quotas would bring even more of it. It's also true that the endless campaign for textile protection has become entrenched in a certain style of politics, mainly southern, and has become the conventional way of expressing good will toward the mill towns in good years as well as bad.
The United States is already squandering an enormous amount of consumers' money to preserve a modest number of textile jobs, most of which pay low wages. One economist, William R. Cline of the Institute for International Economics, puts the price of the import restraints on textiles and clothing at $20 billion a year, or $238 per household. These import quotas don't mean more jobs for Americans; they only protect jobs in the sheltered industry at the expense of other jobs in other businesses. When Congress passed a similar bill two years ago, President Reagan vetoed it. If this one passes, he would be absolutely right to veto it again