WASHINGTON -- About 100 apparel workers from the Baltimore area joined thousands of textile workers, textile officials and farmers in a lobbying blitzkrieg here yesterday to push passage of a bill that would limit imports of textiles and textile products to 1 percent annual growth.
The House of Representatives is expected to debate the bill next week in the face of a Bush administration pledge to veto it. The Senate approved a similar measure last July by a seemingly veto-proof margin of 68-32.
But the president persuaded three senators to switch votes on a Hatch Act reform bill, depriving supporters of the two-thirds majority necessary to overcome his veto.
After visiting congressional offices in the morning, textile bill advocates marched to the White House with 35-foot-long banners bearing an estimated 250,000 signatures in favor of the bill. Marchers heard Rep. Marilyn Lloyd, D-Tenn., the prime House sponsor, exhort them to lobby some more in order to secure 30 or 40 more votes she said were needed to make the legislation veto-proof.
"Mr. President, America supports the textile bill. Do you?" she asked from her vantage point in Lafayette Park across from the White House.
"We want to continue to keep textiles as our basic industry," Lloyd said. "Unless we stand our ground, textiles will be the sacrificial lamb in the negotiations."
Bush's advisers have argued that quotas in the bill will undermine the U.S. negotiating position in the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The executive branch traditionally argues for negotiated trade agreements, as opposed to congressionally imposed tariffs or quotas that could set off trade wars.
When the Senate passed its bill, Democratic Sen. Ernest Hollings, whose home state of South Carolina has a strong textile industry, claimed that congressional action would strengthen the U.S. negotiating position.
(It was Hollings who was reported to have a Korean tailor, whose wares a Senate colleague recently delivered to Hollings after a trip to the Far East. Tuesday night as he was marching in to hear President Bush address Congress, Housing Secretary Jack Kemp playfully reached over to check the inside of Hollings' suit lapel.)
The administration also opposes the bill on economic grounds, contending that it would drive up prices of apparel and textiles.
Out in the park listening to Lloyd was Carmen Papale, manager of the Baltimore Regional Board of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and an ILGWU vice president.
If President Bush "continues to let imports come in, more of our plants will close," Papale said. "I'd like to ask Bush ... Who do we depend on for uniforms for our armed services when that happens?" she said.
Papale said those who praise Asian workers' work ethic should come to Baltimore area plants and "see how hard our people work."
The Maryland workers visited the offices of Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, and Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd. Papale said the Maryland House delegation appears to back the bill with the exception of Rep. Constance A. Morella, R-8th.
Morella has said she wants to study the measure, Papale said.
Movement toward the bill gained strength last year when its backers added a provision allowing textile-exporting countries to increase their U.S. market quotas by importing more American farm products. That proposal drew seven new supporters representing Midwest farm states when the Senate passed the measure last July.