PANEL POISED TO PUSH SHIPPING BILL TO HOUSE

PANEL POISED TO PUSH SHIPPING BILL TO HOUSE

House leaders are planning to bring an ocean shipping deregulation bill to a floor vote as soon as next week, congressional aides said.

After amending the proposed Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 1995 bill and attaching it last week to the budget reconciliation measure moving through Congress, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will now push the bill separately as a stand-alone measure.The action sets up a dual legislative track in the House for a bill that would eliminate the Federal Maritime Commission and public tariff-filing requirements while preserving antitrust immunity for steamship conferences and port alliances.

Rep. Bud Shuster, R-Pa., the chairman of Transportation and Infrastructure, and Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, are said to be planning to bring the bill up for consideration under suspension of the House rules.

The maneuver would shut off any attempts to amend the bill, other than changes already sought by committee leaders, but would require substantial support among House ranks.

"If there's a vote, you have to have a two-thirds vote, but I don't think that's a problem. It's not that controversial in the House," a Republican aide said Monday.

Key Democrats on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee are in support of the bill. Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., ranking minority member of the committee, and Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, are co-sponsors.

Transportation and Infrastructure officials were awaiting receipt from the Congressional Budget Office of projections of the bill's impact on federal revenue and expenses. They were planning to file a committee report later this week, a required step before the full House can consider the bill.

Despite the apparent confidence of committee leaders, opponents of the legislation said they may be able to defeat it if it's brought up under a suspension of the rules.

"We still have profound reservations about the wisdom of this legislation. It establishes cartels. This thing is going to be a disaster," one congressional aide said, although he lamented what he said has been a weak effort by opponents of the bill to communicate their concerns to individual congressmen.

"The shipping community hasn't done a particularly good job of getting out their message," the aide said.