At the Reagan administration's request, House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) yesterday pulled off the floor a bill to overturn the president's sanctions against the export of gas pipeline equipment to the Soviet Union.
But one of the bill's leading sponsors, House Republican leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), who has broken with Reagan on the issue, later got permission to move the bill back on the floor today.
O'Neill's surprise action followed a telephone call from Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who is meeting in New York this week with foreign ministers from Europe and the Soviet Union. Shultz argued that the bill was "untimely and unjustified. . . and would undercut his position," according to Rep. Paul Findley (R-Ill), another of the bill's sponsors, who announced O'Neill's decision.
The president has barred shipments of pipeline equipment to the Soviets not only by U.S. firms and their subsidiaries but by European firms using U.S. technology, and has ordered that sanctions be applied to firms that defy him. His purpose is to block construction of a planned natural gas pipeline from Siberia to western Europe, to punish the Soviets for the imposition of martial law in Poland. But his sanctions have badly strained U.S. relations with its NATO allies, and have also bruised U.S. companies that have lost business in the international power play.
While the bill is largely symbolic, since it has little chance in the Republican Senate and would be vetoed by President Reagan if it passed, there are strong pressures for a House vote from Democrats who see it as a lively campaign issue five weeks before the election.
"The Democrats would be foolish not to press for a vote," said Rep. Don Bonker (Wash.), a senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. "The dominant issue is jobs. Reagan's sanctions policy is hurting jobs. The voters aren't in the mood to fight communism. They want to get back to work."
Michel's sponsorship of the bill makes makes the administration's task harder. Caterpillar Tractor Co., based in Michel's hometown of Peoria, has laid off thousands of workers because the sanctions halted the export of 200 pipelaying machines to the Soviet Union.
Rep. Edward J. Derwinski (Ill.), a senior Republican on Foreign Affairs, said Democratic leaders deliberately scheduled the vote "as a mischievous opportunity to embarrass Michel," but realized after Shultz's appeal that it could backfire politically to create a controversy on the same day that Shultz was meeting in New York with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko.
With an eye toward recessing Friday, the House passed a dozen bills, one of them a measure to protect the barrier islands along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts including parts of North Carolina's Outer Banks.
The barrier legislation, which passed 399 to 4, prohibits federal subsidies for development on certain unspoiled islands and spits. In the past, the federal government has provided flood insurance, as well as money for roads and other public facilities which encouraged building on the fragile islands.
The bill, which had the support of such varied lawmakers as conservative John B. Breaux (D-La.) and liberal Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.), allows certain exceptions including energy projects and maintenance of existing channels.
A noncontroversial resolution condemning the recent massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon and calling for the removal of all foreign forces from Lebanon passed 401 to 1.
A bill authorizing $572 million for maritime programs, most of it to subsidize merchant vessels flying the U.S. flag, passed on a voice vote.
The House defeated a bill to prohibit foreign workers operating over the continental shelf of a foreign nation to bring suit in the U.S. Unions argued the bill would lead oil companies to hire foreigners, rather than American workers who could sue them in U.S. Courts over injuries.