The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee was at his philosophical best. Chartled Russell Long (D-La.), "I'm against any combination I ain't in on."
Amid such asides, the senators in charge of the nation's trade and tariff legislation have started to consider a new list of favors to be doled out on behalf of importuning coporations, both American and foreign.
The Bicycle Manufacturers Association of America pedaled up to decry the onerous duties on imported bicycle parts. At another point, an executive of Merck & Co. Inc., the pharmaceutical manufacturer, stepped forward to emphasize the difficulties caused by the worldwide shortages of crude opium. Officials of a Purex Corp. division devoted to repairing aircraft engines explained the problems they face in lending out temporary replacement engines to foreign customers.
The progression of witnesses at Thursday's hearing before the Senate Finance Subcommittee on International Trade reflected only a few of the arrow-gauge bills piling up there, waiting until the time is ripe to enact them into law. It is still the dog days of July, too early for a genuine, heavily decorated "Christmas tree" bill full of baubles, but the summertime Sentas on Senate Finance still expect to fashion about 10 legislative garlands for deserving recipients.
The 27 miscellaneous tariff bills now pending - many of them already blessed by the House Ways and Means Committee - would offer some 317.6 million worth of annual relief to their various beneficiaries. Some consolidation is expected, but not too much.
"If we put them all in one bill, then it becomes a Christmas tree, it becomes a target," explained one Senate staffer. He predicted about 10 separate measures would be sent to the Senate floor, containing roughly two favors per bill.
These range from a modest little bill to lift the duty on imported wood excelsior (at an estimated loss to the U.S. Treasury of less than $1,000 a year) to a $3.6 million proposal to help the makes of Schwinn, Huffman and other U.S. bicycles compete against the rising tide of foreign-made brands.
Committee aides said most of the measures would be supported simply by written statements submitted for the record. Thursday's hearing before Long and subcommittee chairman Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.) was scheduled for a modest roomful of corporate executives, lobbyists and lawyers interested in a more detailed articulation of a few of the measures.
As Long noted at one point, "factiously," he claimed. Congress is usually quick to rush to the rescue of the auto and steel and other industries that are "big enough to merit" attention, but smaller segments of the economy, such as the bike manufacturers, often don't get the same treatment. Traditionally, though, they have always been welcome at Senate Finance.
The arguments presented often sounded quite cogent. The man from Merck, Paul Butterweck, pointed out that his company and the two others in the business of making codeine and morphine - important drugs in the treatment of pain - have been forced to use concentrate of poppy straw as a raw material "to supplement the current worldwide short supply of crude opium," which comes here duty free.
If the poppy straw came here directly from the developing nations of Turkey and India, it, too, would be duty free. But, the subcommittee was told, the staff must be processed into concentrate in Europe and thus is subject to improt duties totaling some $450,000 a year.
"Suspension of the duty would benefit the consuming public by helping to hold down raw material costs, which are evitably reflected in the price of finished products at the consumer level," Butterweck said.
The hearing on that bill, H.R. 3790, took less than five minutes. Thus are exemptions to the Tariff Schedules of the United States carved out.
Once in a great while, though, there is open opposition. The bike manufacturers, for instance, ran into resistance from the Bendix Corp. whose Bicycle and Ignition Division, headquartered in South Bend, Ind., makes bicycle coaster brakes at a plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
The spokesman for Schwinn and the Bicycle Manufacturers Association, which includes five other domestic producers, were lamenting the fact that fully assembled, imported bikes are assessed a duty on only 5.5 per cent while the U.S. companies must pay a duty of 15 per cent on various parts no longer made in this country, makes asked that the duties on these parts be lifted, as they have been in the passt.
Even after their move to Mexico, however, the Bendix people say they found Japanese-made coaster brakes much more competitive than expected. Bendix spokesman Walter Light said his company expects to win duty-free treatment for its coaster brakes - made as they are in a developing nation such as Mexico - but opposes lifting the duties for the Japanese or anyone else.
"With the duty-free entry of coaster brakes made in Japan, the Mexican plant would in all likelihood be doomed," the Bendix man told the subcommittee. In addition, he said Bendix buys $2 million a year worth of coaster brake components from American suppliers who also would be hurt.
The U.S. bike makers took quick exception. "We find it very strange to see a company appearing here against a bill that would remove the duty on importing its own product," said BMA spokesman Stuart J. Northrop. "It's obvious they (Bendix) have a scheme to get a competitive advantage over the other foreign manufacturers of coaster brakes.
The outcome was left in doubt. "It's not a case of white and black. We're talking about shades of gray," pronounced Long, who suggested that the United States should do all it can to help the Mexican economy and thereby keep Mexicans in Mexico.
"While the Russians build an iron fence to keep people in, we need an iron fence to keep people out," Long said.
The most spirited exchange came over another measure that would help protect Japanese (and West German) binoculars, opera glasses, telescopes and other optical instruments against escalating competition from countries such as Taiwan and South Korea where the wages are much lower.On top of that, the optical products from Taiwan and South Korea - two more countries on the developing nation list - are now duty free. The tariff on Japanese binoculars and the like is 20 per cent.
"With this tariff preference, these two low-wage countries will displace our traditional optical suppliers from the American market," protested Sen. Spark Matsunaga (D-Hawaii). He introduced a bill in May to remove the duties on all imported binoculars and similar items.
Added Mike Masaoka of the American-Japanese Trade Committee, the Japan Binocular Manufacturers Association and other allied groups: "Even though the tariff may be removed completely for all binoculars and telescopes, these less-developed nations will continue to enjoy the advantages of low wages and other production costs . . ."
Puckishly, Long dwelt at length on the opposition of the Commerce Department to the bill. The administration wants to hang onto the 20 per cent tariff as a "bargaining chip" in upcoming trade negotiations with the Japanese.
"They argue that if we were going to do this for the Japanese, we ought to get something for it," Long said, adding that he rather likes that idea.
"We in Louisiana would like to sell Japan a lot more rice," Long allowed. The Japanese, he suggested, would do better to turn some of their rice farms into golf courses. Nourished by Louisiana rice, they might even turn out some champions, Long said. "They're very well-coordinated and efficient."
"It's all right with me to pass this bill," Long told Matsungaga. But he wondered what it would do for the old United States? Would it produce more business for Hawaii? Long demanded.
"We sell them [the Japanese] a lot of pineapples and papayas," Matsunaga hurriedly responded.
The Finance Committee didn't seem quite satisfied. "I'm against any combination I ain't in on," he declared. Once again he voiced the notion that the Japanese devote more of their land to recreational purposes and let Louisiana send them more rice. All he wanted, he said, was a "little reciprocity here so Louisiana can get in on this."
Thus, it could seem, the Tariff Schedules of the United States sometimes can be left intact.