CAFTA faces tough vote in U.S. House

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

File photo of President George W. Bush delivering his State of the Union address to the nation and a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2003.
Image: Susan Sterner.

President Bush is lobbying the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which is scheduled for a vote Wednesday night. The U.S. Senate passed the treaty in June.

Similar to the existing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, CAFTA would create a free trade zone putting an end to most trade barriers between the United States and six additional countries, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.

The free trade agreement faces stiff opposition among Democrats. Many Republicans who represent agricultural Corn Belt or industrial Rust Belt and southern textile states in Congress also have stated opposition to the bill. But with a Republican majority in the House large enough to ensure passage of CAFTA, party leaders are trying to shore up enough votes to ensure CAFTA's passage.

This has prompted last minute action by the President to lobby individual members of the House, reminding them that Central American countries have committed troops and other resources to fight the U.S. War on Terror. Other Republican leaders have been using the party's traditional pro-business message and linking it to homeland security issues.

"Trade creates jobs and lifts people out of poverty and there's nothing like a stable society to fight terrorism and strengthen democracy, freedom and rule of law," Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House, reportedly said at a news conference Tuesday.

But the opposition disagrees. CAFTA is "a bad deal for Central Americans and also for Latinos in this community... (with CAFTA) the exploitation of workers will continue in Central America," Democrat Representative Hilda Solis of Los Angeles said. Her views are common among Democrats, who are overwhelmingly against the treaty.

According to opponents of CAFTA, the current trend of American jobs being sent to foreign countries, particularly in the information technology sector, would greatly expand under the treaty.

"This will be a vote in the middle of the night. They'll keep the vote open for several hours, in violation of the rules. If it passes, it will be by fewer than five votes," predicted Rep. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, according to a Washington Post report.