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The protectionist party

August 03, 2005

PRESIDENT BUSH SIGNED the Central American Free Trade Agreement on Tuesday in a White House ceremony made possible in part by 15 House Democrats, who defected from their party's otherwise solid bloc and supported the pact.

There has been a lot of talk about the "CAFTA 15," and their votes could cost them dearly. Union leaders have already pledged to try to oust them in Democratic primaries next year, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco is reportedly threatening to yank plum committee assignments.

It's a sad day for the Democratic Party when narrow-minded protectionism has become the litmus test of party loyalty. And it's shameful for California, one of the world's most dynamic economies, that not a single one of its 32 Democratic representatives in the House voted for CAFTA.

It's a worrisome sign that the party has been hijacked by special interests.

As we've noted before, the agreement with five small Central American nations and the Dominican Republic is beneficial to both the United States and Central America. And among the strongest advocates of the deal were industries that employ millions of Californians: the Hollywood studios and high-tech companies such as Intel, Oracle and Hewlett-Packard. How could Howard Berman of West Hollywood and Anna Eshoo of Silicon Valley embrace such an isolationist economic worldview?

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 16, 2005 Home Edition California Part B Page 12 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Trade: An Aug. 3 editorial about the Central American Free Trade Agreement said Rep. Howard L. Berman is from West Hollywood. His headquarters is in Valley Village, and his district does not include West Hollywood.

The pressure from their constituents could not overcome labor's opposition and the party leadership's desire to deny Bush a victory and force as many Republicans as possible into the "yea" column. The theory is that American voters will punish at least some of those Republicans for exporting jobs to Guatemala and Honduras -- a false argument, but an easy one to make in a 30-second attack ad.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein was the sole California Democrat to support the pact, along with 20 of the state's Republican House members (all but Rep. Duncan Hunter of El Cajon).

Democrats haven't always been the party of monolithic protectionism. Free trade was a cornerstone of the Clinton administration, and in those days the California delegation seemed to have a better understanding of its benefits for the state. In 1993, 14 California Democrats voted in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a far more sweeping pact than CAFTA.

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