BATTLES LINES are being drawn once again over taxing imported oil to raise income and help lift a depressed sector of the economy.
A group of New England and upper Midwest senators appears poised to lead the fight in Congress against any attempt to enact such an oil import fee.The group is comprised of 16 senators representing states from Ohio to Maine. They introduced a non-binding resolution opposing such a tax on the grounds it would cause economic disaster for the Northeast and widen the gap between energy costs in the Northeast and those in other areas of the country.
The administration so far has spoken against the fee but Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker told Congress last week that if more government revenue were needed an energy tax would be an obvious place to look.
And some lawmakers are pushing the point. For example, Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has 10 co- sponsors for his bill to impose a $4 a barrel fee on imports.
His bill would bring the fee down as the price of oil rises, but it could raise $7 billion in its first fiscal year.
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MAJOR CHANGES in the new tax law are unlikely this year and will become increasingly unlikely as time goes by, according to Sen. Robert Packwood, Ore., ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.
Sen. Packwood, one of the principal architects of the 1986 tax reform law, reasons that millions of taxpayers soon will have a vested interest in the new law and will become opposed to any major change.
Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, has indicated fast action may be needed to close a costly loophole for estate taxes. An administration official agreed some loopholes should be closed.
But Treasury Secretary James Baker recently said the tax reform law should generally be left alone for a while.
He told a congressional panel he did not like how the new law treated capital gains. But I don't think we ought to fiddle with the tax code, so I would hope that my answer doesn't mean that we're going to go back in and reopen in a substantive way a tax reform which we've just concluded.
Instead, I think we ought to cool it for a while and let the American people know what the ground rules are under which they've got to operate, the secretary said.
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SEN. WILLIAM PROXMIRE, D-Wis., has not been awed by the international star status of Mr. Baker and Mr. Volcker.
The Senate Banking Committee chairman recently debated current fiscal and monetary policies with the Treasury secretary and the Fed chairman when they appeared before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.
Both of those officials are normally treated to ringing praises by lawmakers, reflecting their success on economic issues and their global stature.
But Sen. Proxmire complained to Mr. Baker that despite record stimulus
from budget deficits and money supply, the economy is still limping along. And he said administration estimates for economic growth, and therefore deficit reduction, were quite optimistic.
The senator said, All we have on the basis of the record - not the hopes and the dreams, but the record - is that we're bogged in continuing deficits without any real economic progress.
He told Mr. Volcker that Fed policies that have allowed strong expansion of the money supply were setting the country up for a bout with high inflation later.
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THE MARITIME ADMINISTRATION is hip-deep in controversy over its decisions giving subsidized lines greater competitive leeway to undertake unsubsidized service as cargo opportunities arise.
The liner companies, subsidized and unsubsidized alike, object. They take issue with specific decisions Marad has made and with its rescinding of longstanding general rules.
Marad is committed to its deregulatory course and is expected soon to drop the other shoe and scrap the 50-year-old trade route system, the basis of operating subsidies.
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THE REAGAN ADMINISTRATION'S ambitious goal is to conclude U.S.-Canadian free trade negotiations by this summer.
That's the deadline, officials say, given that the administration's fast- track negotiating authority with Canada expires in January.
To help keep the pressure on the negotiators, the administration is not asking Congress to extend the negotiating authority past then.
Administration officials figure that by Oct. 1 they will have to send a U.S.-Canadian trade pact to Congress if it is to win approval by year's end. To make that Oct. 1 date, the negotiations, officials say, must be wrapped up by late summer.
The trade pact, it is hoped, will not only virtually eliminate import duties between the two countries but also reduce subsidies and improve the environment for U.S.-Canadian investment and services trade.
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THE TRADE BILL HYMN: Rep. J.J. Pickle, D-Texas, explained last week that he had arrived late at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on trade issues
because he'd been at a prayer breakfast.
Rep. Pickle used the opportunity to admonish the first witness, House Republican leader Rep. Robert H. Michel, Ill., for not attending the breakfast and to make a plug for a bill that toughens trade the law and increases competition.
We Christians, Rep. Pickle said, missed you at the prayer breakfast this morning, we missed your baritone voice . . . Which may be just as well
because Rep. Pickle also thought Rep. Michel's description of competitiveness as a mere buzzword was off-key.