Waltzing Away from Trade

By July 19, 2007Trade

Robert Novak’s column today takes no prisoners in detailing the House Democratic leadership’s decision to back away from the bipartisan trade compromise they had worked out with the Administration. Big Labor is calling the shots, Novak says.

Ignoring pleas from outraged South American governments, Democratic House leaders were adamant this week about Congress going into its August recess without taking promised action on free-trade agreements with Peru and Panama. Instead, two senior House Democrats appear determined to visit those two rare Latin American friends of the United States to hector them into passing domestic legislation as a prerequisite for congressional approval of already-negotiated trade pacts.

Why did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi renege on her previous commitment? She dances to the tune of AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, who preaches protectionism. Hostility toward not only the Peru and Panama pacts but also a vital agreement with Colombia can be traced to influence on U.S. unions by South America’s leftist labor leaders, originating in Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela.

Beyond U.S. unpopularity in the Western Hemisphere, this exposes deeper problems for the Democratic majority in Congress. While the AFL-CIO’s authority is diminished in the labor movement and among the nation’s workers, its chief rules in Congress. Democrats bowed to Sweeney’s wishes in voting to end secret ballots in union-recognition elections, but the more audacious demonstration of labor’s influence on Capitol Hill was getting the House leadership to renege on a bipartisan deal affecting world trade.

We’re not quite sure what to make of Novak’s comment about Chavez, other than to say any U.S. abandonment of trade certainly plays into the dictator’s hands.

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