In testimony blasting the Bush administration, Japan, banks and Congress, Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, called for quick passage of legislation to allow sanctions against countries that limit access for American banks.
Garn has pushed for such a bill since the late 1970s. "I had hair when this started," the nearly bald senator told the House Banking Subcommittee on Economic Stabilization on Wednesday.The current bill - which Garn is sponsoring with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Donald Riegle, D-Mich. - would allow the administration at its discretion to impose sanctions against banks from countries that it declares unfairly restrict American financial companies.
But Garn said it has been long opposed by Democratic and Republican administrations, banks and Congress for fear that its mere passage would prompt retribution by the Japanese and others.
"I think `wimp' could apply," Garn said of all those groups. He added the situation has allowed Japanese banks to build $433 billion of assets in America (15 percent of the U.S. total), while American banks have a mere $21 billion in Japan (1 percent of its total).
Said Garn of Japanese officials' promises to improve bank trade: "They have been dishonest about this, deliberately so. Let's lay it out on the table. They throw you a crumb, pat you on the back, they smile and make you feel good and know they've bought themselves another three or four years.
"And during that (past) decade and a half, I've been hearing that baloney from the Japanese."
Garn also blasted the Bush administration for not supporting his legislation - although it recently withdrew its formal opposition.
"To object to being given the tools to negotiate, I don't understand," Garn said. "They could say, `Look that crazy Congress passed this and we don't want to use it - but we might if you don't shape up.' "
Garn noted the Senate has passed various forms of his bill six times. But the hearing Wednesday was the first time the House has held a hearing to consider it.
The Senate has attached Garn's legislation to two bills it passed this year awaiting House action. One is a short-term extension of the Defense Production Act and the other is a comprehensive reauthorization of the DPA.
The House passed its own short-term DPA extension bill recently. The House and Senate are trying to work out differences in a conference and deciding to whether to include the Riegle-Garn legislation. "It's way past time to act," Garn said.