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.
Last night, President Bush eked out a very narrow victory on his top trade priority, with the House of Representatives approving a free-trade agreement with Central American countries by just two votes. The House vote was held open for more than one hour to ensure passage. The final tally was 217 to 215.
The White House's victory on CAFTA was achieved through a combination of intense pressure and outright bribery to secure support for the measure, which fostered strong opposition from Democrats and Republicans. As Republican Representative C.L. "Butch" Otter, Republican of Idaho, told the Boston Globe today, GOP leaders promised pork-barrel spending and future legislation to undecided members, with a massive highway spending bill scheduled to be completed this week as a prime location for pet projects. "They're pulling out all the stops," Otter said. "They're either promising or threatening. They've done everything they could." (The Idaho rep. said he opposed CAFTA, despite personal lobbying from Bush at the White House.)
At least the GOP legislators were able to wrest unrelated bribes for their districts in return for their votes. That much cannot be said for the 15 so-called Democrats who voted for the pact and made passage possible.
Let's be clear: Any member of Congress who votes for the Central American Free Trade Agreement has signaled their disregard for labor, environmental, farm, consumer and human rights groups that have spent the better part of a year actively opposing the Bush administration's attempt to create trade policies that favor only the interests of multinational corporations.
That goes for Republicans, for independents and, especially, for Democrats.
The Democratic party has relied heavily on labor support to win and hold competitive seats in the House, and its Democratic representatives cannot hide behind the excuses of White House pressure or political necessity that Republicans employ.
After more than two years of campaigning, the CAFTA fight has come down to the wire with a vote scheduled to take place this week. NAFTA led to the loss of almost one million US jobs, the displacement of 1.5 million Mexican campesinos and an environmentally toxic border, all while multinational corporations gained huge profits. The passage of CAFTA is sure to presage more of the same.
As Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch argues, the passage of CAFTA "would serve to push ahead the corporate globalization model that has caused the â€˜race to the bottom' in labor and environmental standards and would promote privatization and deregulation of key public services."
Indeed, many NGOs working in Central America contend that the pact, while delivering substantial profits to multinational corporations, would do little for the poor of that region. Organized labor, progressive farm groups, environmental groups, civil rights groups and human rights groups are all opposed to the trade agreement.
So, with the heaving sound of an old tree suddenly splitting apart in a storm, the labor movement is finally breaking up.
On Sunday, leaders of four of the country's largest labor unions announced they would boycott this week's AFL-CIO convention, and officials from two of those unions, SEIU and the Teamsters, withdrew from the Federation on Monday.
The five unions now comprising the Change To Win Coalition (CTWC)--along with SEIU, the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers, Laborers, and UNITE HERE--have formed what amounts to a rival federation--whether they all formally leave the AFL-CIO or not, which now seems likely. These unions' collective 5 million membership represents 40 percent of the AFL-CIO's 13 million total. If the mammoth 2.7 million member National Education Association aligns with the effort, CTWC will hold exactly half of all union members in the United States.