Free Trade Pacts – Bipartisan or Democrats Divided?

On Wednesday, the US Senate passed free trade pacts for Panama, Korea, and Columbia. Some say that this will be a disaster for United States jobs while plenty of others have spent millions promoting these deals in Washington and beyond. DC’s leading trade publication Roll Call described these votes as “bipartisan”. However, in looking at the roll call votes for each, while Democrats did vote for these deals, members of the party were split while Republicans voted for all three of them in near lock step:

Votes Dem GOP
0 13 (25%) 0 (0%)
1 9 (17%) 1 (2%)
2 11 (21%) 1 (2%)
3 20 (38%) 44 (94%)
No Vote 0 (0%) 1 (2%)

94% of Republicans voted for all three deals. Maine’s senators were the only Republicans against with Olympia Snowe voting against the Panama and Columbia deals and Susan Collins voted against just the Columbia deal. Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn did not cast a vote on any of the deals. The Democratic side divided – 75% voted for at least one deal while 62% voted against at least one deal. 20 voted for all three and 13 for none of them with 20 more voting for one or two of the deals. When assessing policies or arguments in a poll, the most effective are ones that unite your side and divide the opposition. Free trade does that for the Republican Party. With the White House in favor of the deals originally negotiated by the Bush Administration, Democrats in the Senate had little hope of stopping them with the Republicans in near unanimous support. The chart below shows how vivid the divide is within the party. So while it is accurate to say that the deals passed with bipartisan support, it is equally valid to say that the Democratic Party split on free trade while universal Republican support ensured passage. Now the future question will be whether anyone will hold supporters of these deals accountable if the United States loses jobs as a result of them. Doubtful, given how that has not occurred in the years after NAFTA and CAFTA failed to deliver on the promises made by their supporters.


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