Sweeping trade legislation containing new power to aid U.S. industry and punish unfair foreign practices with import curbs cleared its major House committee hurdle today.
"The bill we are reporting is tough but fair," Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said. "It sends our trading partners a strong message that the time for excuses is over."
Only Reps. Philip M. Crane (R-Ill.) and Hal Daub (R-Neb.) voted against the measure as the committee voted 34 to 2 to approve it. It contained only minor alterations from the draft submitted by Rostenkowski and Rep. Sam Gibbons (D-Fla.) five weeks ago.
Farmers Would Suffer
Daub said farmers would suffer the most when other nations retaliate against the bill's most stringent provisions, and "it will be in the billions."
Rep. Bill Frenzel (R-Minn.) said, however, that the House may at last have found a formula with a chance of winning President Reagan's signature. The President has opposed most trade legislation over the last two years, saying it represented protectionism that would bring retaliation from trading partners and raise consumer prices.
Additional features aimed at the nation's $169-billion annual trade deficit are expected to be added to the legislation before it reaches the House floor for debate late next month. The Senate plans to await House action before fashioning its own version.
Other Panels Involved
The additional features are currently being produced by a number of other committees. But the Ways and Means version is expected to form the heart of the final product.
Key provisions of the measure would:
--Transfer from the President to the U.S. trade representative the power to order import curbs to aid industry threatened by foreign competition.
--Transfer to the U.S. trade representative authority to retaliate against unfair foreign trade practices, but only in a limited number of cases and, even then, in consultation with the President.
--Call for retaliation against the denial of certain worker rights, such as collective bargaining, as an unfair foreign trade practice.
--Grant the Administration authority to negotiate a new General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the pact that governs much of world commerce.
Trade Surpluses Attacked
Before approving the measure, the committee heard from Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), who is seeking to add a provision that would call for import curbs against nations that refuse to reduce excess trade surpluses.
The bill contains a scaled-back version of his provision, which was passed by the House last year but relaxed in the Rostenkowski-Gibbons bill in a bid for bipartisan support. Gephardt did not ask the Ways and Means Committee to vote on his proposal to make the provision more stringent.
But Gephardt, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is expected to offer his plan when the floor debate begins.