Thursday, August 14, 2008

NAFTA endgame - Bill Clinton's maneuverings to achieve passage of NAFTA in the House of Representatives

, Nov 15, 1993 by Brit Hume

WHEN Representative Joseph Kennedy came to the White House October 21 to announce he would support the North American Free Trade Agreement, he was ushered into the press briefing room to say his piece. Earlier in the day, Senator Carol Moseley Braun had made a similar NAFTA declaration, but had to make her statement in the less exalted setting of the White House driveway. The same venue was provided a day earlier to her Illinois colleague, Paul Simon. Letting young Kennedy use the briefing platform, with the plaster-of-Paris White House logo hanging behind him, may seem a small courtesy on a rainy afternoon. But UPI's Helen Thomas, dean of the White House press corps, said it was the first time a Kennedy had spoken from that platform since the Kennedy Administration. Keep in mind that NAFTA is in trouble in the House, not the Senate. The Clinton Administration, after some earlier hesitancy, seems at last prepared to do what it has to to pass the trade agreement.

The Administration still has a lot to do, but there are reasons to think the task may not be as difficult as both the White House and congressional Republicans have thought. Their mutual worry has been fed by mutual distrust. The President, facing a major defection of old-line Democrats under intense pressure from labor, needs about 110 Republican votes. Republicans, suspicious of the Clinton commitment to a treaty negotiated by George Bush and Carla Hills, say they may not be able to deliver unless Mr. Clinton can produce at least as many Democrats. Mr. Clinton is handicapped by the loss of both House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Majority Whip David Bonior, who both oppose the agreement. That makes it harder not only to round up votes, but also to get an accurate count, and not just of Democrats. The White House is accustomed to relying on Bonior, who has contacts among moderate Republicans, for his head counts of Republicans as well as Democrats. On this, the Administration now has to depend on GOP Whip Newt Gingrich, a man they neither like nor trust. Gingrich, of course, feels the same way about the White House.

One might think the Republicans, eager to vindicate their former President, and ideologically disposed toward free trade, would be for NAFTA regardless, but it's rarely so simple in the House. Labor, with help from strange bedfellows ranging from Pat Buchanan to Ross Perot to Ralph Nader, has whipped up stiff opposition to the agreement, playing on the pessimism and insecurity people feel about the economy. The anti-NAFTA mood is most intense in blue-collar Democratic districts, but is not confined to those districts. So completely have labor and its allies dominated the NAFTA debate that there is strong opposition in many Republican-held districts as well. NAFTA is seen now as a tough yes vote for nearly everybody. Senior Clinton aide David Dreyer said the White House is expecting a vote-by-vote struggle down to the last day with the agreement winning by only the narrowest margin. "In the end, it will be like the budget," he says. "We'll be within one vote of losing by eighty." That may sound strange, but it's not uncommon on a major controversy for a President to be holding only as many votes as he needs to win, and only on the condition that he can win. Nobody wants to cast an unpopular vote in a losing cause. "The problem," says Dreyer, "is that nobody wants this. There's just no popular sentiment for it. There's nothing that can match the focused intensity of the opposition."

Gingrich has blamed that on the White House, and particularly on Mr. Clinton. "He has just not focused in the sort of narrow, intense, annoying way that you guys in the White House press corps have to report on whether you like it or not," he says. On October 19, Gingrich said the Clinton effort on NAFTA was "pathetic." Gingrich says the President has repeatedly alienated potential Republican support by derogatory references to the 1980s, when their party controlled the White House. "Every time he starts going on about the last 12 years, my guys say, 'We should vote for this guy?'"

The President was at it again October 20, at, of all things, a NAFTA event at the White House. "The people who are fighting this are bringing to this fight the resentments that they have over what happened in the 1980s. You heard me talk about it--how many decent people lost their jobs; how many times did we see people shut down and move to other countries." Asked about this, White House aides seemed surprised and a little amused that Mr. Clinton's rhetoric was causing so much heartburn in the opposition party. George Stephanopoulos said the President might tone it down, but would not "stop saying what he believes."
The tension over such matters obscures the larger fact that the President, for all the hoopla over health care, has placed increasing emphasis on the trade agreement. Indeed, the organizing theme of his domestic program-security for Americans in exchange for their risk-taking for the future--was dreamed up largely as a way to sell NAFTA, and to link it to the health-care program. It is a questionable, if profoundly liberal, notion-that people are more inclined to take risks and make changes in their lives when they feel secure than when they feel threatened.

But conservatives should not overlook the difficulty Mr. Clinton faces selling the trade agreement in his own party. Protectionism may be an intellectually disreputable idea, but it retains a strong hold in many Democratic circles. Mr. Clinton, bogged down in the long fight over the budget and in the gestation of his health plan, certainly spotted NAFTA's opponents a big lead. But the NAFTA event with three former Presidents at the White House September 14 was inspired, and recruiting Lee Iacocca as a TV spokesman on the issue was too. Mr. Clinton has a savvy political operative in Chicagoan Bill Daley running the White House effort. Moreover, there is evidence that public sentiment on the issue is starting to turn. Polls show it, and members of Congress say they're beginning to feel it.

Republican Representative Donald Manzullo of Rockford, Illinois, for example, says his mail, earlier stuffed with anti-NAFTA postcards, now has more pro-NAFTA letters. Firms in his district such as TC Industries, which makes blade edges for major exporters including Caterpillar and John Deere, have been getting the message to their workers that NAFTA is good for them. What's more, the President has made clear that he's willing to make up the projected lost revenue from reduced tariffs on Mexican goods by some means other than doubling the passenger-ticket and rail-transport taxes on border crossings within North America. The tax-increase idea was a poison pill to Republicans. At a White House meeting October 22, Mr. Clinton seemed to have convinced even Newt Gingrich with promises of an intense sales campaign starting November 1. "I thought it was a very effective presentation," Gingrich said. "Our vote count now is that we have more than enough undecided that by the time we're done explaining the facts and having people look at the facts of what this means for America and American jobs, that we will have a clear and decisive majority." Nobody in the White House is ready to go that far, but Bill Daley thinks that if the Clinton team can keep one hundred Democrats uncommitted until November 1, which it appears it can, then it will be able to deliver its promised half of the 218 votes needed in order to win.

Mr. Hume is chief White House correspondent for ABC News.

BTW, here's an article that was published just after Clinton pushed through MFN status for China, the fears of everyone about offering a corrupt nation like China an entry to the US market, came true. Bill and Hillary Clinton, and their corporate friends pooh poohed all concerns:

House Passes China Trade Bill
Dateline: 05/24/00

The U.S. House of Representatives today by a vote of 237 - 197, has approved H.R. 4444 -- a bill authorizing the extension by the United States of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status to the People's Republic of China.

The granting of PNTR by the United States would clear the way for China's entry into the World Trade Organization and enable free trade with American businesses and industries. Goods from China could be granted the same lower tariff rates in U.S. markets as currently extended to other nations. China has gotten many of these trade advantages for several years, but they have been granted subject to annual review.

A rare event took place on the floor of the House during the last two days of debate -- some minds were actually changed.

Opening today's final debate on free trade with China, Rep. Bill Archer of Texas told his fellow House Members, "This will be the most important vote we cast in our Congressional careers."

The debate did not follow party lines as both Republicans and Democrats spoke for and against the bill.

Representatives speaking in opposition to granting China PNTR focused on:

Potential loss of America jobs to a low-wage workforce in China
Possible increase of American trade deficit
Possible blockade or invasion of Taiwan by the People's Republic of China
Continued failure of the Chinese government to enact meaningful human rights reforms
Possible security threats to the U.S. posed by China
Representatives speaking in favor of granting China PNTR focused on:

Continued stimulation of American economy from expanding markets in China
Potential expanded market for the American agricultural products
Potential for improve working conditions and pay for Chinese workers
Opening Western-style economy in China could force human rights reform in China
The bill as written includes provisions to:

establish a human-rights commission to monitor human rights and trade conduct in China; protect U.S. industries against sudden "surges" in the importation of Chinese products; and expand monetary support for Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America. Yesterday, the House approved by a vote of 404-8, and amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2001 bill offered by Rep. James Traficant (D-OH), requiring the CIA to inform Congress of any security dangers to the U.S. that might come from extending PNTR status to the People's Republic of China.

Who's in support of free trade with China?
Free trade with China is supported by the Clinton Administration, corporate America and agricultural interests. They feel free trade will open up a huge new market for American goods, result in improved conditions for Chinese workers and encourage the Beijing government to enact human rights reform.

Who's opposed to free trade with China?
In opposition are organized labor along with human-rights and religious groups. Opponents fear cheap labor in China will encourage U.S. manufacturers to move factories to China while reward the totalitarian Beijing government, and possibly lead to the invasion or embargo of Taiwan by China.

Free trade with China is not yet a done-deal. The bill must now be debated and voted on by the Senate which will not consider the bill until after its Memorial Day break.