You can sum up the reason why most congressional Democrats are voting against FTAs in six letters: AFL-CIO. The AFL-CIO did a splendid job raising money and turning out voters for Democrats in 2006. Their efforts were highly sophisticated and they may very well have made the difference in Democrats gaining their majorities. And the AFL-CIO is dead set against free trade. It was unhappy with the Clinton administration when it pushed through the NAFTA with Mexico in 1993 and predicted big job losses, and is not phased by the fact that the United States has produced nearly 30 million new jobs net since that time.
This is a classic example of interests of the past trumping interests of the future. Nearly half of all union members today are public employees, almost none of whom are likely to be replaced by workers abroad. But the union movement is still in mourning for the hundreds of thousands of jobs in auto factories, steel mills and other industries that disappeared in the recession of 1979-1982. The denunciations of NAFTA and the votes against CAFTA and the pending FTAs are protests against what happened in Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh a quarter century ago.
Once upon a time, the positions of the parties were reversed. In 1962, the Kennedy administrations chief domestic priority was a free-trade bill, which most Democrats voted for and most Republicans voted against. A disabling amendment was offered by Sen. Prescott Bush, George W. Bushs grandfather. Then it was Republicans looking back with nostalgia to the days of William McKinley and Warren Harding. Now it is Democrats looking back with nostalgia to the days of million-plus membership in the United Auto Workers and United Steelworkers. If the pending FTAs go down, it will be bad news for the progressive governments of Peru and Panama and South Korea and a disaster for Colombia and its president, Alvaro Uribe, who has successfully been fighting the leftist FARC terrorists and is threatened by Venezuelas authoritarian leftist Hugo Chavez. It would be too bad if todays interests were subordinated by nostalgia for a past that will not return.