CAFTA Drama Shakes the South

Since CAFTA passed the House by just one vote this morning -- 217-215 -- you can point to any one of the "ayes" as the "deciding vote." But as we predicted yesterday, the most gripping drama was in the South, where enough Southern Reps were big enough question marks that they could effectively extort dozens of last-minute deals in return for their votes. The Southern textile belt was critical, says the New York Times:

In a crucial breakthrough, White House officials and Republican leaders were able to win support from about half of the Republican lawmakers from textile-producing states like Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

In fact, Bloomberg reports that the deal was in danger of being scuttled -- requiring a crucial 40-minute Tony Soprano session with one reluctant Southern Republican:

In the end a 40-minute delay in the vote was broken after the Republican leadership convinced Representative Robin Hayes of North Carolina to switch his vote to yes.

"Unfortunately, as with past trade votes, Republican leadership held the roll open for an hour and twisted arms,'' said Representative Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who led Democratic opposition to the agreement. "They got people to break their commitments and go back on their word."

Other news accounts relate that "there were reports that wavering [Southern Republicans] were courted with promises of projects in their districts." No surprise there -- just like Clinton did with NAFTA, they used the carrot and the stick (causing the righteous Rep. John Lewis, D-GA, to yell on the House floor at the time, "This is obscene!"). Let's hope Hayes got something good.

Yet 27 Republicans stuck to their guns, and 10 of the Republicans who voted against CAFTA were from the South: Capito (WV), Coble (NC), Foxx (NC), Goode (VA), Jinda (LA), Jones (NC), Mack (FL), McHenry (NC), Norwood (GA) and Paul (TX). (Note the North Carolina delegation's solid rejection, which was joined by all the state's Democrats.) In addition, the two who didn't vote -- essentially "no" votes -- were from the South, Reps. Davis (VA) and Taylor (NC).

Bush and the GOP leadership may have had to fight hard to win over half of the Southern Republican delegation in the textile belt, but they didn't have to lift a finger for the other Southerners central to this drama: Southern Democrats.

Eight out of the 15 Dems who cast their lot with this dubious corporate-written trade pact were from the South. Here's the list of CAFTA supporters in the House from the "party of opposition":

Melissa Bean (IL)
Jim Cooper (TN)
Henry Cuellar (TX)
Norm Dicks (WA)
Ruben Hinojosa (TX)
William Jefferson (LA)
Jim Matheson (UT)
Greg Meeks (NY)
Dennis Moore (KS)
Jim Moran (VA)
Solomon Ortiz (TX)
Ike Skelton (MO)
Vic Snyder (AR)
John Tanner (TN)
Ed Towns (NY)

There was no political reason for these votes. None were in danger of losing their seats from an anti-CAFTA vote.

In fact, given that all of the Southern states they represent have been ones that have suffered greatly from past "free trade" deals, this could have been a great way to appeal to blue-collar and middle-class voters. Here's how many jobs have been lost to NAFTA in their states -- and these are just numbers up until April 2001, before the Bush recession displaced thousands more workers made vulnerable by NAFTA and other pacts:

Arkansas: 9,829 jobs lost from NAFTA, 1993-2000
Louisiana: 6,613 jobs lost
Tennessee: 25,000 jobs lost
Texas: 41,067 jobs lost
Virginia: 16,758

Also, none of these Democrats are exactly fighting for their political lives. Inspired by David Sirota, an analysis of their 2004 election margins reveals that all of the Southern Democrats who voted for CAFTA got into office with over 55% of the vote -- a virtual landslide.

So these Democrats unnecessarily voted for an undemocratic, corporate-written global investment deal guaranteed to alienate hundreds of thousands of working families in the South -- just the people Democrats need to win over if they hope to have any future in the region.

What to do with these people? Sirota has some ideas.