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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Bill to Limit Steel Imports Killed

WASHINGTON -- Legislation that would restrict foreign steel shipments is dead.

The U.S. steel industry did not obtain a majority, much less the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle on the quota bill. The Senate voted 57-42 against a motion Tuesday to restrict debate and supporters do not plan to try again.

"This issue is unfortunately dead,'' said Senator Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, who was in charge of garnering Republican support for the quota measure.

Santorum said lawmakers now will regroup to figure out other ways to help the industry. He said they may try to strengthen a bill the Senate finance committee approved last week to address the steel industry's long-term health. Quota supporters complained that bill does not address the industry's plight in the short run.

The U.S. steel industry sought quotas to combat low-priced steel imports it blames for thousands of layoffs.

Imports reached record highs in 1998 in the wake of the Asian economic crisis, which reduced demand for steel abroad and forced foreign producers to look for a market in the United States.

The Clinton administration lobbied against the bill, and several senators expressed concerns about its effects on the national economy.

Opponents say the quotas violate international trade agreements and could prompt other countries to cut off their markets to U.S. exports. "This bill will kill jobs. This bill will start a trade war,'' said Senator Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican. "Since we are the greatest beneficiary of international trade, we will lose more than anyone else.''

The issue divided Senate Democrats, many of whom were personally contacted by Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Commerce Secretary William Daley and urged to reject quotas.

Supporters had counted on getting the votes of all 45 Democrats and 15 of the Republicans behind quotas. They did get 15 Republicans but persuaded only 27 Democrats to join them.

Daley praised the Senate for rejecting legislation that he considered "bad for the economy.''

But he warned that foreign producers should not take the Senate vote as a sign that the United States will permit illegal pricing. He said the administration already has imposed sanctions short of quotas to address those practices.

The bill's passage could have caused difficulties for Vice President Al Gore as he tries to court organized labor for his presidential run next year.

President Bill Clinton had threatened a veto of the bill, which the House passed in March by 289-141.

Clinton called the vote "a reaffirmation of America's commitment to open markets.

"Quota legislation was the wrong approach and would have weakened our economy and undermined our ability to tear down unfair trade barriers in foreign countries that hurt our workers, farmers and companies,'' he said.