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Not So Fast
June 22, 2001

Coming soon to our nation's capital: a showdown of global proportions. The issue is fast track - the power to make absolute trade deals - and the combatants are marshalling their forces. In one corner, the boys from the Business Roundtable, fresh from a White House pep talk, and giddy at the prospect of boundless overseas outsourcing. Seattle-style demonstrations aren't their style, but don't let the pinstripes and Palm Pilots fool you. They mean business - big business. Lining up opposite, a motley band of Greenpeacers and Teamsters, populists and patriots - "protectionists and isolationists" in Bushspeak. Their firepower would make David's slingshot look like the A-bomb, but they've taken on the titans before and triumphed in the last two face-offs.

This week President Bush threw down the gauntlet. He says if he is not authorized to negotiate trade deals without Congressional amendment, "our trading partners are going to be confused and concerned." Too true. No doubt these trading partners have read our Constitution's Interstate Commerce Clause which says "Congress shall have the power to…regulate Commerce with Foreign Nations."

They may also know our history -- better than Mr. Bush who says of protectionism, "we reject that kind of thought here in America." Tell that to George Washington -- who refused to wear a coat cut of British cloth to his inauguration and signed the Tariff Act of 1789. He believed "A free people…should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent on others…" Likewise, Alexander Hamilton wrote in his 1791 report as Treasury Secretary, "Every nation ought to endeavor to possess within itself all the essentials of national supply." Similarly, Abraham Lincoln said, "Give me a tariff and I will give you the greatest nation on earth." McKinley called prosperity the "trophy of a protective tariff." Teddy Roosevelt wrote, "I thank God I am not a free trader."

The moderns who strayed from this tradition have reaped a bitter harvest. In the days before protectionism became an epithet, tariffs produced 90% of federal revenue, we paid no income tax, growth averaged 4%, and trade amounted to 10% of GNP. No fast track required. Now, in the age of non-reciprocal trade deals, a $450 billion trade deficit has replaced the surpluses. Manufacturing jobs, 30% of U.S. jobs in 1953, are down to 13%. America, once the world's greatest creditor has become its greatest debtor. Such is the high cost of free trade.

Why then would Congress hand the keys to our $9 trillion market to a President who dreams of a hemispheric free trade zone from Alaska to Argentina? Why would we fund our rivals, level our industries, and chaperone our competitors into global organizations where we have no more clout than Ecuador? For President Bush, it's a "moral imperative." For his donors, it's the bottom line. For America, it's disaster.

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