THE HOUSE VOTE to pass the IMF bill was a triumph of good sense and good politics. But it was an extremely close call, and it by no means ends the IMF debate in Congress this year.
This bill authorizes the United States to lend another $8.4 billion to the International Monetary Fund, but it will have to be followed by an appropriation. The Appropriations subcommittee is firmly in the hands of people hostile to the IMF, and getting that legislation through the House will require another struggle. The authorization alone won't deliver the money.
Several aspects of this long battle deserve your careful attention. First of all, you will note that despite the most vigorous endorsements by President Reagan and the Republican leadership in the House, Republican congressmen voted against it 94 to 72. The House Republicans complain bitterly when they are described as an irresponsible opposition, yet they continue to behave irresponsibly by the standards of their own party. The bill passed only because Speaker O'Neill was able to recruit more Democratic votes than seemed possible last week.
This episode will also add to the widespread doubts about the general level of competence among the present management of the Treasury Department. The secretary, Donald T. Regan, repeatedly assured the speaker that there were plenty of votes to pass the bill. Mr. Regan was repeatedly shown to be grossly misinformed.
But above all, the truly startling thing about the opposition to this bill has been its demonstration of genuine hostility to the banks. Suspicion of banks is a very old tradition in American politics, but the outpouring over the past several weeks has been truly extraordinary. Why? Remember that the bankers are running a successful campaign to force the repeal of tax withholding on savings accounts.
The bankers think that the withholding issue is totally separate from the IMF bill. They need to think again. A lot of people in Congress have been deeply offended, and some have been badly bruised, by the bankers' crusade against withholding. It cranked up a degree of real hysteria among banks' customers with a kind of deliberate distortion and misinformation that has few parallels in recent memory. An aroma of tax evasion has hung over the whole operation.
Congressmen who think that the IMF bill will primarily benefit banks are mistaken. It will primarily benefit people working in factories and on farms, here and around the world, to produce for export. But because a lot of congressmen thought of it as a bankers' bill, it came within six votes of defeat. That is a fact on which the bankers might usefully reflect.