THE STRONG REACTION to the report in the New York Times last week that the Reagan administration wants a further drop in the dollar showed once again how nervous foreign exchange traders can be.

The report stated the obvious, given the still burgeoning U.S. trade deficit and the modest economic growth prospects in such key countries as Japan and West Germany.Speculation, however, that the report was a deliberate plant by the Treasury Department gave the dollar a sharp further nudge downward.

U.S. officials were embarrassed. They could not deny they favor a further

dollar decline, but at the same they were anxious to avoid too swift a decline.

Respected economists here have all along been asserting that absent faster economic growth abroad the dollar must drop further to pare down the huge U.S. trade and payments deficits.

A recent Brookings Institution study suggests that the dollar must fall another 10 percent against a trade-weighted average of major foreign currencies to move the U.S. payments balance toward equilibrium. C. Fred Bergsten of the Institute for International Economics calculates that if economic growth abroad stagnates the yen probably will have to rise to 140 and the German mark to 1.6 to the dollar.

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SEN. LAWTON CHILES, D-Fla., the Budget Committee chairman who has introduced his own trade legislation, said any new trade bill should be followed by action in many areas, including fixing the budget deficit.

We've got to deal with this fact that we've got such abysmal productivity in this country, the senator said.

The other problems he sees: Our personal savings are so low . . . our capital is all hot; our management is paid on one-year performance; we don't get our research and development fromthe lab into the marketplace, and we turn around and buy our research from our competitors who get into the marketplace before (us) . . . Japan graduates twice as many engineers with half the population . . . they're using our robotics and beating us to death with them . . . the way they do all of their management decisions - all of those things, I think, are part of our trade problem.

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A LIGHT IN THE WINDOW: Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., refuses to give up on product liability reform legislation despite his having to turn over the chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee to Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, D- S.C., an ardent foe of liability law reform.

Sen. Danforth intends to introduce legislation soon and push for committee consideration. He is expected to revise the most controversial feature of the legislation he offered last year, a $250,000 ceiling on payments for pain and suffering when the company involved offers timely settlement.

Staff say that he has not decided whether to modify the ceiling, eliminate it or propose a new formula.

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TURNING OFF THE LIGHT: After receiving heavy campaign financing from out- of-state companies interested in product liability reform, Sen. Bob Kasten Jr., R-Wis., has decided to leave the Consumer Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee, where any new reform legislation would surface.

Sen. Kasten, a key reform advocate, is moving over to Surface Transportation , where he will be the senior Republican. The ranking Republican on the Consumer Subcommittee will be a new comer to the Senate, John McCain of Arizona.

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AVIATION LEGISLATION: Rep. Norman Mineta, D-Calif., chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, has introduced H.R. 8, a rehash of his proposal for taking the airport grant program off budget. It would allow funds for the program to move directly from the aviation trust fund to the Federal Aviation Administration and circumvent the congressional appropriations process.

Another bill, S. 161, comes from Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, a member of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee. It would direct the Department of Transportation to replace the many tem porary foreign route certificates it routinely issues to U.S. carriers with open-ended certificates that have no explicit expiration date. The department still could void the new certificates where it determines service is inadequate, but the change would allow airlines to save millions of dollars currently spent renewing the temporary certificates.

Sen. Wendell Ford, D-Ky., the new chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, is planning hearings on air safety and the use and abuse of the trust fund later this month, probably Jan. 29 and 30. The taxes that feed the fund expire this year, as do the programs they support.

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THE AMERICAN MINING CONGRESS is pleased by the appointment of three coal state congressmen to a key committee on acid rain, House Energy and Commerce. The mining industry lobbying group quoted Capitol Hill sources as saying the appointments strengthen the control of John Dingell, D-Mich., committee chairman, over the committee and reduce chances for approval of a stringent acid rain control bill. The appointees include Reps. Frederick Boucher, D-Va., Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and Terry Bruce, D-Ill.

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WHO SAYS top government officials don't have a sense of humor?

It's true that none of his colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee laughed when, after they offered a series of conflicting suggestions for new trade legislation, Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr., D-Mich., said, It's obvious we have a consensus here and can move to mark up the bill this afternoon.

But it's not hard to imagine the smile on the face of William Brock, labor secretary, when he forgot his identification badge recently and was denied entry to the security-conscious Labor Department.

And there was the exchange begun by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Hollings when he explained that the party division of the committee's own

funds would be budgeted 60-40.

Sen. Danforth jokingly claimed the 60 percent as his fellow Republicans' minority share, only to be told by Sen. Hollings, We ought to send you to negotiate with the Iranians.

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