A majority of members on President Reagan's auto industry task force yesterday urged him to seek voluntary import restraints from Japan and to give U.S. auto makers regulatory and antitrust relief.
White House press secretary James S. Brady said the task force had reached a consensus but that no decision is expected until late next week.
Brady quoted Reagan as saying he believes "the auto industry is now involved in a situation that is not entirely of its own making, that the forces of government bear some degree of responsibility so that the government must now bear part of the responsibility for helping the auto industry back on its feet."
Reagan also "remphasized that he remains committed to the principles of free trade and that in general he believes that the government should not become deeply entangled with the economic fortunes of any company or industry," Brady said.
Brady spoke to reporters following a 55-minute task force meeting, the second Reagan has held with the Cabinet-level group.
Before reaching a decision, Reagan wants to consult with members of Congress, including Sen. John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee's international trade subcommittee and sponsor of legislation to place quotas on Japanese car imports. They are to meet Tuesday.
Reagan's decision will also follow another meeting Tuesday with Japanese Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ito and discussions today with former Japanese prime minister Takeo Fukuda.
The Japanese government, which reiterated in several statements this week its intention to slow auto exports to the United States, is said to want assurances from U.S. officials that Danforth's legislation will be dropped before Japan negotiates any agreement.
Danforth's bill would limit Japanese car imports to 1.6 million a year compared to the 1.9 million sold in the United States last year.
Reagan viewed the task force meeting yesterday as "very productive and harmonious," Brady said. The president said that the auto industry "badly needed" regulatory relief and that the administration will work to provide "a more detailed program" of relief, Brady said.
Among government actions that have hurt the auto industry are tax policies, auto emission standards and federal mileage regulations, Brady said.
Administration sources said Reagan was presented a series of options, ranging from import restraints, supported by Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis, to doing nothing at all, the view of Murray Weidenbaum, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
The decisions were reached at the meeting, sources said. One was that no final decision should be made immediately, and the other was that the participants should not talk to the press.
According to one source, Reagan needs to speak with one voice, and another said the president is tired of reading newspaper accounts about his divided Cabinet.
The Federal Trade Commission is moving to kill one longstanding investigation of the auto industry, but Brady said he does not know which probe. Some task force members have said they want to modify antitrust policies so the auto companies can conduct more joint research.
The task force also reviewed a series of options concerning the import question in light of the auto industry's problems, pending legislation to curb imports, the overall U.S. trade position, American trading principles and U.S.-Japan relations, Brady said.