President Reagan vetoed the massive trade bill Tuesday, sending it back to Congress with the hope legislators will quickly pass new reform legislation without two key provisions.
As expected, the president refused to sign the omnibus legislation, calling it protectionist in its call for notification of plants closings and in another provision restricting oil production in Alaska.White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Reagan had urged Congress to sustain his veto and quickly produce new legislation minus those two provisions. "We would probably sign one that had those two provisions omitted."
"The president could not sign a trade bill that threatens this outstanding record," Fitzwater said.
In his veto message to Congress, Reagan said it was "with sincere regret" that he took the action after nearly three years of negotiations. "Unfortunately, as the process came to a close, provisions were included that simply make this bill, on balance, bad for America," the president said.
Earlier Tuesday, Commerce Secretary C. William Verity predicted Reagan would accept a bill with the plant closing notification clause made voluntary, but congressional leaders were skeptical a new bill could be passed before adjourning.
Reagan objects primarily to the requirement for 60 days' notice of factory closings as part of the 2,000-page compromise bill designed to open global markets to U.S. products, to crack down on foreign trade abuses and to assist American industries and workers hurt by imports.
Verity said Reagan would accept a new trade bill that contained a "sense of Congress" statement urging businesses to give the 60-day notice. Such an inclusion would lack the authority of law.
The president "wants a new trade bill, and he hopes that the closing (notification provision) will not be in it," Verity said on NBC's "Today" program. "I think that he would certainly accept something like, `it's the sense of Congress that you should give 60 days' notice.' But what he doesn't like is Congress mandating to private business."
The legislation has wide support in Congress, however, and the House planned to answer Reagan's veto with an immediate override attempt. The measure was approved by the House last month 312-107, well in excess of the two-thirds majority needed to enact into law over a veto.
The true challenge will come in the Senate, where the two-thirds vote appears far more difficult to get despite the Democratic majority's use of the plant closing provision as an election-year issue. Senators said Monday they would not act until after the Moscow summit May 29-June 2.