Canton Repository

3-02-01

Regula says he’ll pass on steel bill 

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON - Rep. Ralph Regula, the immediate past chairman of the Congressional Steel Caucus, is taking a pass on legislation that would roll back steel imports to mid-1990s levels for five years.

Other area lawmakers joined in co-sponsoring the bill, which they called the U.S. Steel Revitalization Act. The legislation is meant to provide relief to the domestic steel industry, which has been reeling from a surge in imports since 1998.

In addition to limiting steel imports to the average during 1994-97, the bill would create a fund to help pay benefits to retired steel workers, expand a steel company loan program and provide aid to finance steel industry consolidation.

Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, said the more effective way to help the industry is to persuade President Bush to launch a formal investigation into whether steel imports are harming the industry.

If the probe, called a Section 201 investigation, finds imports are harming the industry, the president could order tariffs on imported steel, import limits or other relief.

‘‘It is the solution that has a good chance of getting done,’’ Regula said.

During meetings with top administration officials earlier this week, Gov. Bob Taft said he was told the administration is considering a Section 201 probe.

Meanwhile, backers of the quotas bill assembled near the Capitol on Thursday to build support for their legislation.

‘‘The point of the legislation ... is to bring the trade issue to a head, to remedy the problems that have been caused because of our failure to do so in the past, and to renew the confidence of the financial markets in the United States steel industry,’’ said Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., who introduced the bill.

Appearing with Visclosky were Rep. Jack Quinn, R-N.Y., who succeeded Regula as chairman of the steel caucus, and a handful of the 85 lawmakers who signed on to the legislation.

Area House members supporting the bill include Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville; Tom Sawyer, D-Akron; and James Traficant, D-Poland.

Several representatives of the United Steelworkers of America also spoke in favor of the bill. But no steel manufacturers were present. The American Iron and Steel Institute, which represents the largest steel makers, is neutral on the bill. The Steel Manufacturers Association, representing mini-mills, opposes it.

The organizations oppose different provisions in the bill. The Iron and Steel Institute is worried a quotas bill would fail to pass muster with the World Trade Organization, whose members, including the United States, must comply with common trade rules.

Thomas Danjczek, president of the Steel Manufacturers Association, said his group opposes government assistance to troubled steel companies because it is unfair to those that are healthy.

Regula personally does not have a problem with the quotas proposed in the bill, he said. But he added, ‘‘I know the administration does. They will not support a quotas bill because they look on that as a violation of fair trade and they also have a concern that this would cause World Trade Organization problems.’’

In addition to setting import limits, the bill would establish a 1.5-percent surcharge on the sale of all steel products in the United States to help finance benefits for retired steel workers.

The bill would increase funding for the federal steel loan guarantee program to $10 billion from $1 billion. That program makes it easier for steel companies to get loans. In the budget he released Wednesday, Bush proposed ending the program, created by legislation sponsored by Regula in 1999. Regula opposes ending the loan program and said he intends to work to preserve it.

The bill also would create a $500 million grant program to help finance steel company mergers that would make the industry more competitive with foreign steel makers.