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Rostenkowski Asks Less Protectionist Trade Bill

March 04, 1987|TOM REDBURN | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The chief House lawmaker on trade issues sent a strong signal Tuesday that he will push for a moderate, bipartisan trade bill acceptable to President Reagan.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) rejected calls from organized labor for Congress to approve a tough trade measure aimed at strengthening Democratic political prospects in 1988 by forcing a White House veto. Instead, he urged House Democrats to water down the protectionist trade bill that they approved last year.

"I'm not trying to write legislation to please (AFL-CIO President) Lane Kirkland," Rostenkowski said before the National Press Club. "I'm trying to write legislation that will be signed by President Reagan and which is fair and gives us access to foreign markets."

Supported Bill Last Year

Rostenkowski, who last year supported the House bill calling for higher tariffs and other sanctions against nations that run large trade surpluses with the United States, also said he would fight any effort to load the trade bill with special-interest legislation.

But Rostenkowski faces a bruising battle with House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), who has been advocating a more confrontational approach with the White House on trade issues.

In addition, he will have a hard time brushing aside the powerful textile lobby, which plans to press for a more circumspect version of the textile and apparel quota bill that Reagan vetoed.

Rostenkowski, anticipating the political battle, couched his anti-protectionist stance in tough rhetoric, warning foreign nations that they must do more to open their markets to U.S. goods.

'Time Is Up'

"In the past, our trading partners have asked for more time and we have been overly generous in giving it to them," he said. "Well, if I read the Congress right, the time is up. Our patience is exhausted."

Rostenkowski called for tightening current trade laws to require the White House to retaliate more forcefully against nations that engage in unfair trade practices.

He also suggested giving the U.S. trade representative more power to negotiate trade agreements with foreign countries and to rule on industry complaints.

But Rostenkowski made it clear that he believes a protectionist bill would backfire politically against the Democrats.

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