The House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday brushed aside White House objections and voted to rescind the export controls that President Reagan imposed to block the Soviet gas pipeline into western Europe.
Seven Republicans on the committee bolted to join a majority of Democrats in the 22-to-12 vote, arguing that the president's efforts had proved ineffective, had left a jagged split in the U. S.-European alliance and had cost this country thousands of jobs through lost sales of pipeline equipment.
Although it was a pointed rebuff to the White House, committee passage of the bill is unlikely to result in an actual reversal of policy. If it passed the House, it would face strong opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate, and if it passed there, the bill would almost surely encounter a presidential veto.
Its supporters conceded that if the bill becomes law, the president could simply invoke sections of the Export Administration Act and put the controls in place again.
In this sense, the vote was mainly symbolic, a show of displeasure with policy. Nevertheless, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, in a letter delivered to committee members shortly before the vote, appealed for defeat of the measure.
Its passage, Shultz warned, "would severely cripple the president's ability to pursue one of his major foreign policy goals and limit his flexibility and authority to deal with a crisis of major importance to the West."
He claimed that it would "remove a significant instrument of pressure on the Soviet Union and impede the process of finding a common, long-term East-West trade strategy with our allies."
The president's decisions to block sales of technology and pipeline equipment needed by the Soviets, by U.S. companies and their foreign subsidiaries and foreign companies licensed by American firms, caused a storm of controversy in western Europe and Japan. Several allies have decided to ignore the edicts and sell equipment to the Soviets.
The administration has contended that the pipeline would significantly increase Europe's dependence on Soviet energy supplies and would provide the Soviets with sizeable amounts of much-needed foreign currency.
It linked the sanctions to the Soviet support of martial law in Poland and has hinted that the restrictions might be eased if Poles are permitted more freedoms.
But committee members yesterday argued that the sanctions have hurt the West, not the Soviets. "If anything they will stiffen their [the Soviets'] resolve in Poland and will be no favor to the Polish people," said Chairman Clement J. Zablocki (D-Wis.), depicting the Soviets as "overjoyed" at the Western rift caused by Reagan's actions.
"The president has painted himself into a corner and doesn't know how to extricate himself," Zablocki said.
The political effect of lost American jobs was evident in the lopsided vote. The Republican sponsor of the bill, Rep. Paul Findley (Ill.), explained that the sanctions had caused layoffs in his district at two plants which had intended to sell earth-moving equipment to the Soviets.
"We can't afford to throw people out of work for nothing," said Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-N.J.), who observed that a Japanese company had snapped up one earth-moving equipment contract sought by an American company before the sanctions were in place. "The Soviet Union is now buying it from Japan -- they couldn't care less," she said.
The ranking Republican, Rep. William S. Broomfield (R-Mich.), opposed the bill and defended the sanctions as the president's only method of showing opposition to martial law in Poland. He warned that the pipeline would double western Europe's dependence on Soviet energy sources.
The bill declares ineffective Reagan's December ban on exports to the Soviet Union of U.S.-made oil and gas equipment and technology and the June expansion to include foreign subsidiaries and U.S.-licensed firms. However, even its supporters acknowledged that the existing export-limiting powers under which Reagan acted would give him the same power to reimpose sanctions if the bill somehow became law.