GEPHARDT'S DEFEAT MAY PUT PROTECTIONISM ON THE BACK BURNER

GEPHARDT'S DEFEAT MAY PUT PROTECTIONISM ON THE BACK BURNER

The events of Super Tuesday have sounded the death knell for the protectionist Gephardt amendment to the omnibus trade bill.

Not only has Rep. Richard Gephardt's poor showing in 20 presidential primaries Tuesday effectively eliminated his provision from the bill, but many analysts also say it has pushed aside tough action against foreign trade

barriers as a campaign issue.The Gephardt amendment to the House omnibus trade bill requires the president to take action against countries that have gained huge surpluses through unfair trade practices. Under the amendment, such surpluses would have to be reduced by 10 percent annually over a period of four years.

The House and Senate are engaged in a huge conference as they attempt to reach compromise on the sweeping trade legislation.

The Oct. 19 stock market plunge already crippled the chances of the Gephardt amendment finding its way into the trade bill. The amendment passed the House by only four votes and was strongly criticized on the floor of the Senate.

Nevertheless, the House leadership, including Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., had postponed any negotiations on the Gephardt amendment until after Super Tuesday.

A lot of senior Democrats, including the speaker and Rep. Rostenkowski, were watching the results to determine the extent they would have to make a deal with the Senate. You've got to believe now that a tough, protectionist stance is not going to be as much of a factor in the bill, said one House staffer.

The result?

A more acceptable bill can now be worked out. A bill that the House, Senate and the president can all sign off on, the aide predicted.

Mark Johnson, a campaign aide to Rep. Gephardt, D-Mo., conceded there was great disappointment with Tuesday's results but pointed out that the leader, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, still needs to win 65 percent of the remaining delegates to sew up the nomination.

Mr. Johnson said the campaign fully expects Rep. Gephardt to win in Michigan on March 26.

We got outspent in the South. It's not that voters heard (Rep.) Gephardt's message and rejected it, it's that they didn't hear it. There's a tendency to say X candidate isn't doing well and that means an issue he's associated with is going down the drain. But the trade issue has very, very broad-based support - overwhelming, bipartisan support, Mr. Johnson stressed.

He said the Senate version of the Gephardt amendment, which would increase the likelihood of retaliation against unfair trade practices, is in some ways tougher than the Gephardt amendment. The conference should produce a compromise between the two measures.

The conference committee will support a comprise between the two that will be a departure from current policy, he said.

But a Senate aide said the poor showing by Rep. Gephardt will not affect the Senate's view of the amendment.

If (Rep.) Gephardt had won a sweeping victory on Tuesday, his amendment was still going out of that bill, the aide said.

In the past, a number of Senate and House members and staffers have said that the Gephardt proposal was doomed because any language even resembling the amendment would bring a swift veto from the president.

The senate aide said that despite polls showing a majority of voters favoring a tough trade policy, Super Tuesday proved that trade is not a hot issue.

He added, however, that should the trade deficit begin to exert a more obvious negative influence on the economy, the issue could again move to the forefront of the campaign.

There's not much depth or intensity of feeling on the trade issue except in scattered spots. It's very much like the budget deficit as an issue. But if unemployment or inflation start going up, it will be a very big issue, he said.

A diplomat at a European embassy agreed.

A clever politician will see there is still mileage in (the issue) even though (Rep.) Gephardt didn't win with it in the South, he said.

With regard to the trade bill, however, the results of Super Tuesday will go a long way toward strengthening the Senate's hand in bargaining, he said.

C. Fred Bergsten, director for the Institute for International Economics, said the results of Super Tuesday go beyond Rep. Gephardt's trouncing.

The strong showing of (Vice President George) Bush and the poor showing of (Rep.) Gephardt indicate that those who had made trade protectionism part of their message got strongly defeated, Mr. Bergsten said.

Mr. Bergsten pointed out that both Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kan., and Rev. Pat Robertson sought to pick up Republican votes in the South by pushing for stronger textile import quotas.

The lack of public support for a tougher trade stance, he added, will steer the trade bill in less protectionist direction and may undercut the legislation all together.

This message may dampen enthusiasm for trade legislation, and will certainly push the bill away from protectionist sentiment, Mr. Bergsten said.