Some people–who properly recall from 11th grade civics that treaties are ratified by the U.S. Senate, not the entire Congress — are asking why both houses of Congress are passing judgment on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Because Congress must pass implementing legislation for NAFTA (signed on Dec. 17, 1992) and for the side agreements dealing with environmental protection and workers’ rights (signed on Sept 14, 1993), NAFTA is viewed as an “economic agreement” that requires the approval of both the House and Senate.
Technically, NAFTA is being treated as a revenue measure. That means NAFTA approval will originate in the House of Representatives, where a vote is now scheduled for Nov. 17. Result: The vote bazaar is now open in Washington as President Clinton tries to beg, borrow and steal the 218 votes he needs to get NAFTA approved. If NAFTA can pass the House, vote counters think it will pass the Senate.
That’s why the nation’s attention will focus increasingly on the House of Representatives, where pro-NAFTA forces are about 20 votes short, depending on who does the counting. The opposition to NAFTA includes strange bedfellows: Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, isolationist/conservative Republican Pat Buchanan, and the nation’s most visible presidential wanna-be’s Ross Perot and Jessie Jackson.
The pressures to vote against NAFTA have been unrelenting. Organized labor, led by the AFL-CIO, is using every resource at its disposal to defeat the trade expansion pact. Reason: Most of the new jobs will not be union jobs and many of the jobs lost will be union jobs.
NAFTA simply accelerates a process that has been under way for a long time: Labor unions represent a smaller and smaller percentage of American workers — from nearly one out of three in the post-World War II era to just a little more than one out of 10 today. That is happening because organized labor has positioned itself on the wrong side of the New Economy. The New Economy rewards knowledge and performance (not seniority), speed and flexibility (not standard operating procedures), innovation and creativity (not hierarchy).
Because NAFTA will make our economies more efficient and give all consumers more choices at better prices, business and labor organizations that are not efficient will be losers. So, opposition by labor unions and inefficient businesses is understandable.
Democrats Richard Gephardt and David Bonior are leading the charge against NAFTA in the House. Gephardt used economic nationalism as a theme of his presidential campaign a few years back. It didn’t work then, but he’s giving it another try. Gephardt also rails against the “huge” investments that will have to be made at the U.S.-Mexico border to make NAFTA work. Fact: Problems at the border existed long before NAFTA. Furthermore, NAFTA provides a legal basis and some institutional machinery to fix border problems. The border argument is a charade, pure and simple.
The shrill voices of special interests assaulting an agreement supported by four former presidents are being heard. Because NAFTA means more jobs and a rising standard of living in our hemisphere, let’s hope they will not be listened to.