The Central American Free Trade Agreement, which was such a high priority for the Bush administration that the president personally lobbied Congressional Republicans on the issue Wednesday, passed the House by two votes.
Those two votes came from members who can best be described as “Bush Democrats.”
The final vote on CAFTA was 217-215 in favor of the deal, the closest margin possible — as a tie vote would have prevented approval.
Of the 217 supporters of the bill, 202 were Republicans and 15 were Democrats.
Of the 215 opponents of the bill, 187 were Democrats, 27 were Republicans and one was an independent, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders.
The Republicans who split with the president withstood immense pressure from the White House and corporate lobbyists in order to take a stand with the organized labor, environmental, farm and international human rights groups that opposed the agreement. They were so courageous and so consistent in their determination to block the president’s agenda that, during the floor debate, Representative Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat who led opposition to CAFTA, specifically praised Republicans such as Idaho’s Butch Otter and North Carolina’s Walter Jones for their efforts.
On the other hand, the Democrats who supported Bush’s agenda faced little or no pressure from the White House. Nor did they show anything akin to courage or consistency. They simply voted with the White House because, either they agree with the president’s misguided approach to global trade or they thought they could trade their votes for big contributions from the corporate interests that see the NAFTA/CAFTA model of free trade as an opportunity to improve business bottom lines at the expense of workers, the environment and communities in the U.S. and Latin America.
Let’s give the Bush Democrats the benefit of the doubt and accept that they actually support the corporate model for trade that Bush backs. This puts them at odds with mainstream Democrats on what can only be described as the most fundamental of economic issues — as trade deals get into the core questions of whether American workers will have jobs, whether communities can maintain their industrial bases, whether government has the power to protect the environment, and whether the U.S. government will be a willing co-conspirator in the exploitation of men, women and children in developing countries.
So, unless they are crooks who trade their votes for campaign checks, the Bush Democrats are supporters of a corporate agenda that Representative Robert Menendez — a New Jersey Democrat who has a long history of involvement with Latin American affairs — explained during the CAFTA debate would harm U.S. workers and farmers while plunging Central American countries deeper into poverty and causing more Latin Americans to migrate to the U.S.