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1994 Redux: The Consequences of Dems' New NAFTA

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UPDATE: Bloomberg News is now reporting the Senate Finance Committee this morning backed the "free-trade agreement between the U.S. and Peru, approving the deal without amendment...The committee voted 18 to 3 in favor of the agreement."

My latest weekly newspaper column for Creators Syndicate is out today, and, as promised, it is on the three-headed NAFTA quietly wending its way through Congress right now. Let me add some political data to the substantive details in the column about how this new NAFTA sells out American workers and how it parallels the destructive push for the original NAFTA in the early 1990s.

As various polls show, Democrats are losing ground because its own voters are becoming disillusioned. An August Gallup poll, for example, reports that "Congress' approval rating the lowest it has been since Gallup first tracked public opinion of Congress with this measure in 1974." This mirrors a June Washington Post poll finding a major drop in approval ratings for the Congress - and that "much of that drop was fueled by lower approval ratings of the Democrats in Congress among strong opponents of the war, independents and liberal Democrats." OpenLeft's Chris Bowers yesterday noted that Republicans actually give the Democratic Congress higher job-approval ratings than Democrats and Independents - and that's not encouraging, considering that most self-declared Republicans will likely end up voting Republican for Congress come election time.

What these numbers say is that Democratic and Independent voters understand that they are being ignored by Congress - that Democratic leaders are driving "over their dead bodies," as I quote the chairman of American Express saying in my column. While the war is the most high profile of the issues, the fight over jobs, wages, the economy and political corruption underlies everything - and is all encapsulated by the trade debate, as it was during NAFTA. And any look at polling trends show that Americans understand that NAFTA sold them out, and want a change. This is why, as I noted in the column, so many Democratic candidates ran explicitly on a promise to end NAFTA-style trade agreements.

That's why Democratic leaders' push for this new NAFTA is not just a shameless reversal of a campaign promise or a wholesale abandonment of the middle class, it is also politically dangerous because it threatens to further depress support for Democrats from Democratic and Independent voters. Remember, folks, the 1994 Republican takeover did not happen because of a massive upsurge in Republican voting - it happened because Democratic turnout was depressed. As Public Citizen reports:

"In 1994, the Democrats lost control of the House after turnout amongst labor households and non-unionized working class families declined. Polling found that upset about NAFTA's passage and specifically about local representative's support of NAFTA moved many traditional Democratic party voters to stay home on election day. The 1994 elections were remarkable in that low turnout -- not swings from Democratic to Republican party support -- decided many of the seats which switched parties on margins of fewer than 1000 votes."

As I noted yesterday, at least some Democratic lawmakers are trying to stop the deals with Peru, Panama and Colombia from moving forward. They are trying to get the party to live up to its promises to fundamentally change our trade policy. But their fight faces long odds as the White House joins up with former Clinton administration officials-turned-corporate-lobbyists to try to pass this three-headed NAFTA. It's deja vu all over again - and, as I say in the Creators column, if these Democratic leaders keep pushing these lobbyist-written trade deals, don't be surprised if we're looking at another 1994 again.

Let me conclude by saying that trade and globalization are going to be a recurring focus of my column because these issues are arguably the most important we face, because they reaches into so many other issues - from economic growth, to human rights, to global warming to national security. Sadly, these issues also get extremely little media attention, and when they do, conservative and neoliberal pundits march in lockstep to endorse every single lobbyist-written trade deal that comes down the pike. My column is going to be much different - it is going to try to represent the outlook of the majority of Americans who want a change - not the cloistered Punditburo that thinks outsourcing, stagnant wages and a war on the middle class is acceptable.

You can read the full column here - and if you want to see my weekly column in your local newspaper, just use Media Matters' directory to contact your local editorial page editor and point them to my page over at Creators.

Cross-posted from Working Assets

Cross-posted from Working Assets