The House decisively rejected cargo preference legislation for the U.S. maritime industry yesterday after a tumultuous afternoon of protectionist rhetoric and a short-lived decree by House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) that the bill has passed on a voice vote.
The final vote to kill the bill was 257 to 165, but the roll call came about only after the bill's chief sponsor. Merchant Marine Committee Chairman John M. Murphy (D.-N.Y.) withdrew his objections to a related Republican request for the official tally.
"We got juiced," an side to Murphy said after the vote. The bill's tackers including lobbyists from the White House and organized labor, had been fully expecting it to pass when the debate began.
The controversial measure, which President Carter endorsed in July in the wake of campaign-year commitments to the maritime unions, would have required that nearly 10 per cent of the nation's oil imports be carried here in U.S.-Flag ships manned by American crews.
An uncustomary combination of 132 Democrats and 125 Republicans voted against the bill. It was a startling turnabout from 1974 when the House adopted a far more generous cargo preference bill, setting aside up to 30 per cent of U.S. oil imports, by a vote of 266 to 136.
Both supporters and opponents of the proposal killed yesterday pointed to the widespread publicity over campaign contributions by maritime interests both to Carter and to members of the House - as the chief reason to the change.
"People jumped ship as the public tocused on the maritime money," declared Common Cause President David Cohen, whose organization lobbied intensively against the bill. "The maritime industry has had a free lutch on Capital Hill before this because there been no publicity."
Murphy conceded that the hubbub raised, over maritime contributions was a key factor although he insisted that it was all quite unfair.
The bill actually passed the House on voice vote at first as Speaker O'Neill intoned the requisite parliamentary language in his usual rapid the style. The chief opponent of the measure, Rep. Paul N. McCloskey (I. Calif.), should have been on his feet to demand a roll call, but he remained in his seat until it was too late. When he finally jumped up, O'Neill crisply informed him that he had been expecting McCloskey to rise, but that McCloskey had not stirred or spoken before the bill was adopted.
Finally, after a motion to reconsider has been properly laid on the table, McCloskey spoke up. The speaker told him the only way out was to make a unanimous-consent request for a roll call. McCloskey did so. Murphy objected.
Confused muttering began to spread across the House floor. McCloskey tried to claim that "I was on my feet" in time, but that simply angered the Speaker who had been looking directly at McCloskey.
"The chair will not stand for that," O'Neal barked. He said he had been "looking in that [McCloskey's] direction . . . expecting somebody to arise and nobody arose."
The muttering grew louden Rep. Robert E. Bauman (R-Md.) finally broke the impasse by diplomatically announcing that the Speaker had been quite right about McCloskey's posture at the crucial moment and then diplomatically suggesting that a public furore would result, willy-nilly, unless Murphy withdrew his objection and permitted a roll call.
The Speaker hinted that he agreed. "I respect the gentleman's statement," he told Bauman.
At that, Murphy relented. A roll call was ordered and the bill went crashing down.
"It was stupid as hell," one maritime industry lobbyist complained of Murphy's decision. "O'Neill had it done."
As the key congressional backer of the measure, Murphy and his allies in maritime industry and labor had been predicting even after the debate began yesterday morning that they would win by about 30 votes.
Lobbyists from the AFL-CIO, the International Ladies Garment Workers, the Communications Workers of America, the American Maritime Association and the recently organized coalition known as the U.S. Maritime Committee lined up outside one of the main entryways to the House chamber in hopes of making sure.
One of them, Washington lawyer-lobbyist Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., estimated that there would be about 220 votes for the bill on final passage. Standing a few yards away amid several aides from the Labor and Commerce departments, White House lobbyist Bill Cable was also predicting victory.
"This is an administration bill," he said simply when asked about reports that the President had grown luke-warm about the measure. "We support our friends in organized labor."
Opposition had built up rapidly after Carter endorsed the bill in July. Republicans charged a political payoff and pointed a $150,000 in maritime-related contributions to the Carter campaign during last year's primaries.They also hit hard on leaked administration memos, particularly one from the President's special representative for trade, Robert S. Strauss, who told Carter last June:
"Politically, something in the way of a cargo preference is going to be very hard to resist. Other options don't serve or satisfy the political need."
Common cause followed up later with a study showing that maritime-related unions had contributed another $449,410 last year to the election campaigns of 215 current House members.
The fight on the House floor yesterday came in two stages. Republicans first sought to defeat the rule bringing it up for debate, with House GOP Conference Chairman John ANderson (R-III.) heartily assailing it as a Halloween-style "trick and treat bill . . .one of the most blatant pieces of special-interest legislation ever to ring the doorbell of this House."
Liberal Democratic opponents of the measure, such as Rep. Abner Mikva (D-III.), chairman of the Democratic Study Group, were unwilling to kill it by defeating the rule, however, and the preliminary effort failed by a vote of 249 to 167.
As the debate continued, Merchant Marine Committee Chairman Murphy made clear that maritime interests might come back for a bigger percentage of oil imports later on and perhaps extension of the cargo preference concept to other commodities as well.
"We might have to go to 30 per cent," he said. "This legislation is the first step in a comprehensive program to strengthen the merchant marine."
Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-N.J.) said she was shocked to see the bill come up on the House floor at all. She implored her colleagues to "see how this looks" to the public, no matter "how pure the motives" behind the campaign contributions.
"Why are the newspapers calling this a payoff and a ripoff?" she demanded. "Because that's the way it looks . . . I never thought, frankly, when I heard about this bill that it would ever come to the floor. I thought people would be embarrassed."
The protectionist brouhaha came up later, sparked by an attempt by Rep. John E. Cunningham (R-Wash.) to require that all the oil tankers built under the bill be built with American steel.
Rep. Sam Gibbons (D-Fla.) and others attacked the proposal as an attempt to resurrect the protectionism of the 1930s brought on by the Smoot-Hawley Act and implored the House not to "resurrect that buzzard."
"It tore up the country. It started a trade war, it contained the seeds of what became World War II," Gibbons protested of the worldwide wave of protectionism that Smoot-Hawley touched of. "It wrecked the economy of Europe. It wrecked the economy of Japan," he said. "We ought to be smart enough to learn something from history."