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.
Yet, as a House vote on CAFTA approaches this week, at least six Democrats have announced their support for the deal and as many as a dozen others could still end up supporting it. With broad opposition from textile-state Republicans to the trade deal, Democratic unity against CAFTA can kill the deal. But if just a handful of Democrats side with the Bush agenda on trade, the deal could win approval by a narrow margin.
One of the Democrats who has endorsed CAFTA is Illinois Representative Melissa Bean, who last year took the seat of Republican veteran Phil Crane.
Bean could come to regret her decision. She won her 2004 race with strong support from unions, which contributed $235,000 to the effort. And she will been courting labor support for her reelection bid in 2006, when she will face a strong GOP challenge in a traditionally Republican district. Bean’s fund-raising efforts have been assisted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) — headed by Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel, a militant advocate for the North American Free Trade Agreement when he served as an aide to then-President Bill Clinton. The DCCC has designated her as one of its so-called “Frontline” candidates. The “Frontline” initiative seeks to fill the campaign coffers of the ten House incumbents who are likely to face the toughest challenges from Republicans next year.
This week, however, leaders of some of the largest unions in the country have indicated that they will not be backing Frontline candidates who vote for CAFTA, and they are urging the DCCC to drop Frontline efforts for members who support the deal. Bean is identified by name in the letter, along with Representatives Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Dennis Moore, D-Kansas, both of whom have voted for free-trade pacts in the past and are seen as potential CAFTA backers.