Bloomberg News tonight reports that President Bush will be stumping this week with Fortune 500 CEOs to pressure Democrats to pass the Peru Free Trade Agreement - a deal that expands NAFTA into South America. Bush is simultaneously threatening to veto a bill to provide aid to workers who lose their jobs thanks to NAFTA-style trade deals.
Incredibly, the Hill Newspaper reports that the House Democratic leadership - specifically Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Ways & Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) - is now officially whipping votes to get Democrats to support the Peru deal in a vote this week, even though most of the new lawmakers who delivered the Democrats the congressional majority specifically campaigned against NAFTA-style trade agreements.
The Hill Newspaper story assesses the fight within the Democratic Party, noting that the battle is also bleeding into the presidential race this week, thanks to John Edwards big announcement against the Peru deal, and thanks to the Iowa lawmakers leading the fight against the deal.
The intensity of the anger from rank-and-file Democrats is stunning:
"There's been a lot of pressure on the rank and file to support this deal," said Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), who opposes the deal. "It's disappointing that Democratic leaders are not in sync with the American people."
Fearful that trade agreements will further add to a poisonous political environment -- like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was passed before the GOP routed the Democrats in the 1994 midterm election -- some Democrats are furious they are being forced to vote on the measure.
"We have a base that does not think we're getting enough done. If we give them another dose of NAFTA ... I'm left to wonder what [that does]," freshman Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.) said in a phone interview.
The politics of the deal has also seeped into the presidential race. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has announced his opposition to the U.S.-Peru agreement. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), however, has said he will support the deal. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) is undecided.
"Democrats could lose the presidency because of trade...The American people feel there is no difference between a Democrat and Republican. [President Bill] Clinton brought us NAFTA and now a Democratic Congress will bring us Peru," said Michaud, chairman of the House Trade Working Group. (emphasis added)
The politics really are unfathomable, both when you consider the polling on the issue and when you consider that the same Democratic Party that was politically stung by NAFTA in 1994 is now, months after an election, pushing another set of NAFTAs. Then again, as I told the Hill and as I wrote in a nationally syndicated column a few weeks ago, perhaps the politics are predictable.
The Democratic Party is still very much dominated by its Wall Street wing - the group primarily made up of former Clinton administration officials who traded in their public service to become corporate lobbyists and push deals like this. That this pernicious influence has enough muscle in Washington to override the mandate of the last election and get the supposed party of the little guy to run over the little guy is testament to just how corrupt our political system really is.
Then again, as the Hill also notes, we do have a courageous group of Democrats trying to stop their party from selling out the middle class. And you can help these progressives by using this tool from Public Citizen to tell your representatives to vote against the Peru Free Trade Agreement and reject the NAFTA trade model once and for all.