Congress returned to town yesterday and began consideration of normalizing trade relations with China, seeking to signal in this and other ways a toughened attitude toward the Soviet Union.
In addition to an annual parade of antiabortionists and other familiar session-starting scenes from the domestic world, the Capitol echoed with recriminations about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and with demands for a strong American response.
Several resolutions opposing United States participation in the Moscow Olympics this summer cropped up in both Senate and House. Committees met to consider the administration's partial embargo on grain sales, export restrictions and other ways of signaling American opposition to Russian expansionism.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) reiterated his belief that this will be a security-minded Congress, but pointedly cautioned against "unthinking, spasmodic shifts . . . which fail to anticipate either the perils or the opportunities of the months and years ahead."
In the House, Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) would not even rule out a return to the military draft if the presdient and military experts recommend it, saying he senses increased support in the country for such national security precautions.
But, despite verbal thunderbolts by onetime advocates of better Russian-American relations, the Senate stopped short of retreating further than it already has from the now-shelved strategic arms limitation treaty (SALT II).
By an almost straight party-line vote of 50 to 36, it tabled a resolution sponsored by Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.) urging President Carter to withdraw the treaty. Cater asked Congress to put off action on the treaty after the Soviet move into Afghanistan last month, but it has not been withdrawn.
The Congress did not even get very far on the proposal to extend most-favored-nation treatment to the People's Republic of China -- a gesture to the Soviet's archrival among Communist nations that Congress is refusing to extend to the Soviet themselves.
Reflecting the heightened political sensitivities that will also dominate this election-year Congress, House Republicans served notice they would object to immediate consideration of the China trade measure on grounds it would violate congressional budget requirements.
The complained that reduced tariffs would push revenues below the floor established in the budget resolution for this year but also said they want to hear first from Carter about his foreign policy intentions in tonight's State of the Union address.
"We need to know what our foreign policy is," said House Minority Whip Robert Michel (R-Ill.).
The House Rules Committee is scheduled to consider a budget waiver request today, paving the way for House action on the China trade measure later this week. The Senate hear debate yesterday on the proposal, most of it in favor of normalizating trade with China, and then put off acton until after the House acts.
Most-favored-nation status would allow China to qualify for tariff reductions available to most of this country's trading partners, leading to a doubling of trade between the two nations by 1985, according to State Department expectations.
The proposal drew support from Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), an author of earlier trade restrictions that affected both China and Russia, as a proper antidote to the "misguided policy of evenhandedness" toward the two communist powers.
The rhetoric-of-the-day award may have gone to a onetime dove, however. "A dozen years of detene have been wiped out by a single act of international cannibalism," said Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (D-Maine) in introducing one of several resolutions aimed at American withdrawal from the Moscow Olympics if Soviet troops are not pulled out of Afghanistan. But at the same time Tower questioned the value of an Olympics boycott, saying, "It's like hitting them [the Soviets] in the face with a powder puff."