WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Clinton administration has missed a congressional deadline for coming up with a plan to combat a rising flood of imported steel into the United States in the wake of the Asian financial crisis.
Administration officials insisted that the report could still come out this week. "Maybe today, maybe tomorrow," White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said Wednesday. Officials said the reason for the delay was a desire by President Clinton to consult more fully with members of Congress interested in the issue.But industry officials and members of Congress said the delay reflected divisions within the administration over two camps -- one arguing for tough protectionist measures sought by the industry and its union and an opposing camp that is arguing that such measures would run counter to the administration's efforts to help countries hurt by the global financial turmoil.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., inserted language in the budget bill last fall ordering the administration to tell Congress by Tuesday what its plans were to cope with the sharp rise in steel imports over the past year.
One administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the report in its present form is about 20 pages long and essentially is a status report showing what actions have been taken so far.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has been urging the administration to initiate its own steel protection cases against a larger number of countries than the three cases filed by the industry against Japan, Russia and Brazil.
Other lawmakers expressed unhappiness Tuesday about the missed deadline and the indications the administration will shy away from more dramatic steps to curb imports.
"I'm not interested in a status report because I already know where we have been and where we are. I want this report to show where we are going," said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said unless the administration takes more aggressive action, "it sends a signal to the rest of the world to let dumping continue, which would be very damaging to the economy."
The administration has been split between a desire to help a key domestic industry and union workers whose jobs are endangered and concerns that raising protectionist barriers would represent a setback for hardhit Asian nations and Russia. These nations are hoping to boost sales in the huge U.S. market to cope with severe recessions.
The U.S. trade deficit is expected to set records this year and next because the Asian economic crisis has cut into American exports of manufactured goods and farm products while boosting imports, in part because the currency devaluations in many countries have made foreign products cheaper for U.S. consumers.
"We are looking for action out of the administration, not reports," said William Klinefelter, Washington representative of the United Steelworkers of America union. He said 5,000 steelworkers have already gotten layoff notices and another 20,000 are working reduced hours because of increased imports.
The Commerce Department has until Feb. 12 to issue a preliminary ruling in the original dumping cases. Many expect the industry will file its own cases against more countries if, as expected, Commerce issues a favorable ruling next month.