More on the CAFTA affair

Beyond the sad fact that the House of Representatives passed the Central American Free Trade Agreement by two measly votes last night, what's interesting politically about the occasion is just how much scheming and arm-twisting had to occur to get the thumbs up at all.

First, the vote happened at midnight, Capitol-time. Why so late, you ask? According to Mark Goldberg at Tapped:

If the Republican leadership had the votes to pass it outright, they'd call a vote during the light of day or at least in the cool of the evening. Not, as it were, while you were sleeping. But why play fair when you can play dirty? The GOP leadership will simply wait until a couple dozen swing Republicans decide go to bed rather than defend their district's interest, and thereby avoid a legislative embarrassment for the administration.

So DeLay had to play cagey to give a few Republican "no" votes an easy out. There is also the matter of substantial pork-barrel bribery the Republican leaders promised, in the form of highway and energy bill appropriations, for Republicans who voted "yes" on CAFTA.

And if those tactics weren't sufficient to convince representatives to vote against their constituents' best interests and approve CAFTA, there was the highly unusual extension of the voting period from the original 15 minutes allotted to over an hour, during which time DeLay et al. cajoled and threatened members of his party to get enough votes to pass it.

[As an aside, it doesn't hurt to repeat, once again, the immortal words of now-VP Dick Cheney, who as a congressman from Wyoming called a 15-minute extension of voting by Democrats "the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I've ever seen".]

All this wranglin' and politickin' is really the only upside to the whole rotten ordeal. Our representatives have finally realized that "free" trade is not a good thing. It's not in our best interests when it sends jobs and money abroad; it's not in the supposedly "beneficiary" countries' interests when it allows corporations to take over trades and industries that had previously been the province of small-scale, local workers. As obvious as it is to all of us, it is marginally inspiring to know that even the Washington fat cats have realized that only the corporations gain when these trade policies pass.

Therefore, we must look to the Corporate Party, the Republicans, and see how the CAFTA vote really served a much larger and altogether scarier purpose. Again from Tapped, Sam Rosenfeld astutely analyzes the underlying motive for how the vote went down:
"It will be a tough vote, but we will pass it tonight," predicted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "And we will do it with very few Democrats."
That, in a few simple words, sums up the Republicans' basic approach to this trade deal, which is also the overarching approach they take on most legislation: deliberately pad the bill with enough odious measures -- and shut Democrats out of negotiations to a great enough extent -- so as to minimize the number of Democrats who might vote for it. The goal is to render the minority party irrelevant to the passage of legislation, and to be able to point out to industry lobbyists the unified Democratic opposition to pro-business bills as a way of crippling the last vestiges of business support for the minority party. That's why the stakes are actually quite high in this CAFTA vote even if the agreement itself is relatively minor as far as free-trade treaties go. A pro-CAFTA victory here, in the face of significant Republican and united Democratic opposition, would serve as a validation of the "50 percent plus one" approach for both trade agreements and for legislation in general, just at the moment when many are questioning the administration and congressional leadership's continuing ability to pull off such strong-arm victories.

We can only hope, and work to make sure, that Republicans' brazen positioning as the party by, of and for the corporations, will soon be their downfall.

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