Ronald Reagan yesterday gave George Bush a campaign present. The President said he will reluctantly allow a plant-closing bill that he called ``bad legislation'' to become law without his signature. Mr. Reagan called the bill requiring companies to give 60 days advance notice of plant closing, or layoffs of 50 or more workers, a dangerous step ``down a road of European labor policy.'' But he acknowledged the ``political realities'' of public support for the measure.
Reagan's announcement could relieve some of the campaign pressure on Vice-President Bush from Democrats who have been using the issue to suggest the administration lacks compassion for workers.
Craig Fuller, Mr. Bush's chief of staff, said Reagan's decision ``will make it more difficult for the political game to be played over the plant-closing issue.''
The President said in a statement read by White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater that he would permit the plant-closing bill to go into effect ``in the national interest and to end these political shenanigans and get on with the business of the nation.''
But Mr. Fitzwater also noted that the Democrats had been hitting Republicans hard on the issue, and he said when asked if Mr. Reagan was acting on political considerations, ``Certainly they're a part of the equation.''
Fitzwater said the bill had become a ``political football'' that was being used by Democrats ``more interested in scoring political points with organized labor'' to hold up congressional action on legislation overhauling United States trade laws. Reagan has said that he hopes Congress will enact a trade bill before it adjourns next month.
``Sometimes you have to take a touchback in order to get better field position,'' Fitzwater said. ``The political show that the Democrats have put on over this bill is evident to everyone.''
On the other side, an aide to Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis, who has argued strongly in favor of a plant-closing notification provision in federal law, said of the decision: ``I think it's a testament to the people around the nation who supported this bill that it's finally going to be in effect.''
Asked if Reagan's decision takes an issue away from Mr. Dukakis, spokesman Dayton Duncan said, ``Not at all. The point is that Ronald Reagan and George Bush tried to stop it. Where is George on this? He used to oppose it.''
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts called Reagan's decision ``a victory for communities across the country, a victory for America's competitive position in the world, and a victory for common sense in the federal budget.''
Senate majority leader Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia congratulated Reagan on what he called a good law ``for the American working people.''
Bob Dole of Kansas, the Senate minority leader, said after meeting with Reagan yesterday that the President's intention in not exercising a veto was to prod Congress into action on other legislation, rather than to take some heat off Bush, the likely Republican presidential candidate.
Senator Dole said Reagan is ``swallowing something that he doesn't totally like in order to get us off the dime'' on the trade bill.
The senator noted that there are only 25 to 28 legislative days remaining in this session, and that several crucial issues remain, including new assistance to the Nicaraguan rebels and drought assistance to farmers.
Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, the assistant Republican leader, said there are no more than 23 votes in the Senate for upholding a veto. ``The reality is it's a very difficult exercise to get 34,'' the number of votes necessary to sustain a veto, Senator Simpson said.