Several members of Congress yesterday called on President Reagan to fire Frederic Andre, a member of the Interstate Commerce Commission who said that kickbacks in the trucking industry should be viewed as just "discounts" or "rebates."
Andre, one of Reagan's appointees to the ICC, said in a closed meeting Oct. 20 that the commission should not worry about bribes in the trucking business because they are "one of the clearest instances of the free market at work." According to the confidential transcript obtained by The Washington Post, Andre also said that truckers should be allowed to conspire to fix prices, and that he sees nothing wrong with convicted felons running a trucking company while in prison.
"I was simply shocked to read the views of Mr. Andre," said Sen. Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "I personally think there's no place in the federal government for a man who holds these views. He either ought to resign or the president ought to dismiss him.
"That he would consider a bribe to be a rebate -- why, good Lord, a bribe is a breach of the law and to be condemned. Philosophically, at least, he is willing to overlook the laws he is supposed to be administering."
The administration wasted little time in distancing itself from Andre's controversial remarks.
"Mr. Andre's views do not reflect those of the White House," said White House spokesman Anson Franklin. "We do not agree with his comments as reported in The Post."
Andre, 49, remained unavailable for comment yesterday. He is a onetime truck driver and former official of the Indiana state motor vehicle bureau who was an advance man for Reagan in 1980 and later served on Reagan's ICC transition team. ICC Chairman Reese H. Taylor Jr. and other Reagan appointees on the commission told him they disagreed with his views on bribery, according to the transcript.
Nearly every legislator contacted yesterday called for Andre's resignation. Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.) said Andre's comments reflect "a pre-Watergate mentality that somehow bribes are a normal part of accepted business practice. A bribe is not a rebate, a bribe is a crime, and he should know the difference.
"Fred Andre has a twisted and improper notion of how the free market system should work. I would hope the president finds these views as repugnant as most people would."
Rep. James J. Florio (D-N.J.), chairman of a House subcommittee on commerce and transportation, said Andre's remarks "demonstrate the robber-baron approach to the free-enterprise system. It's outrageous that a person with that sense of values is in a position to be making crucial policy decisions in a key industry."
"To me, he's advocating and sanctioning criminal conduct," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).
Rep. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) was one of several Democrats who said that Andre's remarks fit in with a growing pattern of lax enforcement policies at several regulatory agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
"Underneath it all is a virulent anti-government attitude which assumes that even criminal behavior is preferable to the dreaded hand of regulation," Gore said.
When other ICC members insisted that bribes were wrong, according to the transcript, Andre replied: "Well, they are just discounts . . . . A bribe is a rebate, is it not? . . . It is an attempt to get around the rigidities imposed on the market by a government cartel."