Monday, November 06, 2006

Which party favors free trade?

Some of my best friends are Democrats. They often like to think that their party is good for international trade.

"Remember NAFTA?," they tell me. "Clinton was a Democrat, and he pushed the free-trade agenda forward."

Yes, but let's look at how he did it. The 1993 roll call vote in the House found 132 Republicans in favor of NAFTA, 43 against. Among House Democrats, there were 102 in favor, 156 against.

In the Senate, the same story. Among Republican senators, there were 34 in favor of NAFTA, 10 against. Among Democratic senators, 27 were in favor, 28 against.

Since NAFTA, the difference between the two parties has, if anything, grown larger. When the Central America Free Trade Agreement came up for a vote in 2005, the House produced 202 Republicans in favor, 27 against. The Democrats had only 15 in favor, 187 against.

NAFTA passed in 1993 because a smart, moderate Democratic president rejected the majority view of his own party in order to complete a policy initiative that his Republican predecessor had begun. I give Clinton a lot of credit for that decision. But it would be a mistake to look back at this episode and delude oneself into thinking that the Democratic caucus in Congress is filled with Bill Clintons.