Battling the war profiteers of World War I, Robert La Follette reminded America that “wealth has never yet sacrificed itself on the altar of patriotism.” The progressive senator from Wisconsin was complaining about arms merchants reaping excessive profits from the sale of weaponry in 1917. But La Follette’s words echo with particular clarity in the aftermath of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon because of the rise of another form of war profiteering. In an attempt to gain the upper hand in a fight they had been losing, Bush Administration and Congressional supporters of fast track–or, as supporters have renamed it, “Trade Promotion Authority”–were telling Congress Daily within hours of the September 11 attacks that terrorist threats increased the need to grant Bush authority to negotiate a NAFTA-style free-trade area from Tierra del Fuego to the Tundra.
With each passing day, these policy profiteers have pumped up the volume. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, announced, “Passing trade promotion authority for the President would send a strong signal to the rest of the world that the United States is ready, willing and able to lead.” The Wall Street Journal editorial page chirped about how “not everything has changed for the worse since September 11. One garden at the skunk party has been the emergence of new bipartisan momentum to expand free trade, specifically something called ‘Trade Promotion Authority.'” US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick was everywhere preaching his “Countering Terror With Trade” mantra, a campaign so aggressive it left even Republicans scratching their heads. “I am not sure a trade bill has anything to do with terrorism,” said Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney.
But Zoellick wasn’t listening to Republicans who warned that an aggressive push for fast track could be the straw that breaks the back of the post-September 11 bipartisanship. Less than two weeks after the attacks, Zoellick delivered a speech at the Institute for International Economics that seemed to question the patriotism of fast-track foes. Members of Congress “who know trade is the right thing to do are refusing to act for rather narrow-interest reasons,” the Bush aide declared, adding, “Trade is about more than economic efficiency. It promotes the values at the heart of this protracted struggle.”
That was too much for New York Congressman Charles Rangel, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. Rangel issued a scathing rebuke to Zoellick’s policy profiteering. “As a combat war veteran and as a person whose city has been attacked and suffered devastating losses as a result, I am offended by the strategy of the current United States Trade Representative to use the tragedy in New York and at the Pentagon to fuel political momentum behind a partisan fast-track proposal,” Rangel said, adding, “To have the USTR attack the patriotism of Americans for their failure to support an unwritten, undisclosed bill demands a public apology.”
When Zoellick’s point man in the House, Bill Thomas, the California Republican who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, claimed he had consulted key Democrats about a move to push a bipartisan fast-track compromise through the House, Rangel shot back that the Democrats in question “have expressed to me in no uncertain terms that they do not subscribe to this attempt to wrap the flag around any fast-track bill in the wake of the September 11 attacks.” Undaunted, Thomas said he’d try to bring a bill to a floor vote by the second week of October.