The Reagan administration yesterday announced a series of relief measures for the auto industry that it claims will help put 200,000 unemployed auto industry workers back in jobs by the end of next year.
The long-awaited auto recovery program includes the relaxation of 34 environmental and safety regulations, but it stops short of import quotas on Japanese-made vehicles and it includes no tax breaks targeted for the auto industry.
Vice President Bush, who announced the package, said the measures -- in concert with President Reagan's economic recovery program -- would return 200,000 idle auto industry employes to work by the end of 1982. -
The program, which for weeks bitterly and publicly divided the president's Cabinet, is intended to save consumers $9.3 billion during the next five years and the auto industry $1.4 billion while Detroit engages in a $70 billion retooling effort to make smaller cars and put itself in a better competitive situation with Japan. The heads of the major U.S. auto makers have pledged to transfer to consumers all benefits they will receive from the aid package, said Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis, head of a task force on the auto industry.
The administration proposals would ease a decade of accelerating automobile regulations, ranging from those requiring auto bumpers to withstand a 5 mile-per-hour collision to pollution emission standards for cars and trucks.
The vice president said Reagan, a staunch advocate of free trade, "stopped short of asking the Japanese" to restrict sales of their cars here -- one of the major items the auto industry was seeking from the government. The auto manufacturers blamed imports, largely from Japan, for their $4 billion in losses last year.
Instead, at the request of the Japanese government, a U.S. delegation was sent to Tokyo this week to brief the Japanese on the president's economic recovery and auto aid programs. Bush emphasized that no negotiations would take place and added that the administration didn't want "to go down the slippery slope" of protectionism.
"The president is not pushing for numbers" in import restrictions, "nor would he be inclined to support legislation that would restrict imports. He is for free trade," Bush said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has set debate for May 12 on legislation to restrict Japanese imports to 1.6 million autos, 300,000 fewer than were sold in the United States last year. Dole said he was moving ahead with the legislation in case discussions with Japan resulted in "lengthy delays" that would be "to the detriment of all concerned."
Reagan has told U.S. and Japanese officials that it would be difficult for him to veto the legislation, giving the Japanese an incentive to reduce imports voluntarily while allowing Reagan to maintain his free-trade stance. Bush didn't say yesterday whether the president would veto the legislation.
Bush emphasized yesterday that it is up to the auto industry to help itself. He said the administration hadn't specifically asked the United Auto Workers union or auto company executives to hold down prices or wage demands, but he hoped that they would cooperate in those ways.
"It should be understood that real recovery will not be accomplished by government alone," said a statement from Reagan read by Bush. "We only can remove the federal shackles and improve the economic environment within which the automobile industry operates. It is up to automobile management and unions to take the strong necessary steps to restore our competitiveness with other nations."
Bush said, however, that monitoring of international trade and the auto industry's progress will be "an ongoing effort," and that his regulatory task force may consider easing more regulations. "We won't say 'Well, we solved the auto problem and we'll go on to something else,'" Bush said.
Bush said that 200,000 unemployed people connected with the auto industry will be rehired by the end of 1982 as a result of the president's overall economic recovery program, added to the relaxation of regulations and other measures announced yesterday.
That projection has been disputed by economists testifying before congressional committees, who said auto industry employment will shrink significantly in the next four years. About 180,000 auto workers are on indefinite layoff, 300,000 ot hers are unemployed in supplier industries and 100,000 dealers have lost jobs, the administration said.
The administration also proposed assisting unemployed auto workers in being retrained or relocated for other work instead of receiving welfare payments, and increasing government purchase of automobiles by $100 million. However, Bush said that not all the purchases may be of American-made vehicles. The president has also asked the attorney general to expedite consideration of certain antitrust regulations that prohibit auto makers from pooling resources in research and development.