WASHINGTON--The House passed legislation yesterday calling for major import restraints, despite President Reagan's warning that burgeoning protectionism at home will launch new trade wars overseas.
The 295-115 vote in favor of a 458-page measure that Reagan castigated as "openly and rankly political" set up an election-year battle with the Republican-dominated Senate.
Fifty-nine House Republicans voted for the bill, while only four Democrats voted against it.
Just a short time before the vote, Reagan told the American Retail Federation that "economic growth in America and around the world would be the casualty" of such trade legislation. And White House spokesman Larry Speakes branded the measure "an A-1 candidate for veto."
Principally, the bill would force the president to retaliate--presumably trade laws that we have in this countries that the independent U.S. International Trade Commission deemed to be engaging in unfair trading practices against U.S. sales abroad. That would remove much of the discretion and negotiating flexibility the President now has on trade cases.
Although the Reagan administration and members of Congress agree that something must be done to erase America's huge trade deficit with other nations--it hit nearly $150 billion last year--there have been fierce arguments on how best to get the job done.
Reagan has favored working quietly with U.S. allies and trading partners to coax a wider opening in world markets for U.S. products and services, while many lawmakers have insisted that only retaliatory measures will work. Smack in the middle of the debate are a wide array of lobbyists, for business, farmers, labor unions and others, with their own conflicting views.
Dozens of House Republicans have come under pressure over the loss of jobs in their districts--layoffs often attributed to foreign trade competition. The measure approved Tuesday now goes to the Senate, where it faces a mixed reception.
The vote came after a three-day debate on the measure, which sponsors said was needed to counter the record trade deficit last year and resulting layoffs. It calls for retaliation against unfair tactics by foreign competitors and would require import curbs for threatened industries.
The measure also contains provisions to roll back Japanese trade surpluses in the U.S. market at a rate of 10 percent at year. Critics claimed that would bring retaliation against U.S. farm exports.
"If you think farmers have it bad today, just wait until they see what it would be like under protectionist trade laws that we have in this Congress," said House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-III.
"This isn't a protectionist bill," Majority Leader Jim Wright, D-Texas, said. "It is an anti-protectionist bill." He called it a remedy for "the trade cancer that is gnawing at the vital organs of our nation."
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., said the measure is "viewed with alarm" in the Senate.
Moments before approving the measure, the House rejected, 265-145, a rival Republican version which would have deleted many of the most heavily debated provisions. It also included a move to speed up textile negotiations.
In his speech, Reagan said the House Democratic leadership "has put together a trade bill--rather, I should say, an anti-trade bill--that is openly and rankly political."
Reagan maintained that the measure "would cost American consumers billions and undercut the millions of American jobs connected with foreign trade."
Sir Roy Denman, who represents the European Community here, threatened reprisals against the United States if the trade measure becomes law.
Denman said that if the United States goes ahead on its own in combatting unfair trade and broadens its definition of what constitutes a subsidy by an exporting country, other countries may do likewise.
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