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La Liga de Las Americas

    U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), who recently received a 100 percent rating from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) for the first and second sessions of the 108th Congress, pictured at Latino Scholarship Day with the Toledo Mud Hens, July 17, and in her Toledo office (L-R).  

U.S. House approves CAFTA, Michigan and Ohio Democrats blast it as bad deal

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP): The U.S. House narrowly approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) early Thursday, a personal triumph for President George W. Bush, who campaigned aggressively for the accord he said would foster prosperity and democracy in the hemisphere. Michigan and Ohio Democrats criticized the decision. 

The 217-215 vote just after midnight adds six Latin American countries to the growing lists of nations with free trade agreements with the United States and averts what could have been a major political embarrassment for the Bush administration.

Sherrod Brown.  

It was an uphill effort to win a majority, with Bush traveling to Capitol Hill earlier in the day to appeal to wavering Republicans to support a deal he said was critical to U.S. national security.

The vote, supposed to take 15 minutes, dragged on for an hour as negotiations swirled around the floor among GOP leaders and rank-and-file members reluctant to vote for the agreement. In the end, 27 Republicans voted against CAFTA, while 15 Democrats supported it.

Lobbying continued right up to the vote, with Vice President Dick Cheney, U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman, and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez tracking undecided lawmakers.

Michigan and Ohio Democrats said the treaty would hurt U.S. workers and farmers.

“If you thought outsourcing was bad before, what can we look forward to now that the Republicans have opened the flood gates sending many good American jobs south?” asked Rep. John Dingell of Dearborn. “CAFTA will just bring more of the pain that American working families have experienced since the passage of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement).”

“The sugarbeet farmers in Michigan will be forced off their farms as the price of sugar plummets,’’ said Rep. Bart Stupak of Menominee. “Hourly workers at sugar refineries will find their jobs outsourced to other countries. 

“CAFTA is unfair trade at its finest. It is unfair to workers—both at home and in Central America .’’ 

Vote on HR3045 by
Michigan and Ohio Legislators

MICHIGAN: AYES: Hoekstra (MI-2), Rogers (MI-8), Camp (MI-4), Ehlers (MI-3), Knollenberg (MI-9), Schwarz (MI-7), Upton (MI-6). NOES: Conyers (MI-14), Kildee (MI-5), Kilpatrick (MI-13), Levin (MI-12), McCotter (MI-11), Dingell (MI-15), Miller (MI-10), and Stupak (MI-1).

OHIO : AYES: Boehner (OH-8), Gillmor (OH-5), Hobson (OH-7), Oxley (OH-4), Pryce (OH-15), Regula (OH-16), Chabot (OH-1), LaTourette (OH-14), Tiberi (OH-12), and Turner (OH-3). NOES: Ney (OH-18), Brown (OH-13), Jones (OH-11), Kaptur (OH-9), Kucinich (OH-10), Ryan (OH-17), and Strickland (OH-6).   


Congresswoman Kaptur issues statement

U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), a Democrat who has seen the ill effects of NAFTA, agreed with Dingell.

“Again the leaders of this Congress have rammed through a lopsided trade deal, by the thinnest margin of 2 votes, with a final tally after midnight of 217-215.  DR-CAFTA will be another job-killing trade agreement the American people don’t want. The clock was held open for more than an hour as arm twisting and deal making swept across the floor of Congress.

“The efforts of those who fought against this deal were noble.  They upheld the enduring ideals of liberty for all people, and the hope of rising living standards with decent working and environmental conditions,” said Kaptur.

“Our resolve contributed to strengthening the broad public support that grows each year for changing these flawed agreements.  The American people know Congress is selling out their interests and middle class living standards.  It is just some in this Congress who still choose to dance to different drummers.

“The cause of achieving free trade among free people is long, difficult, and worthy, indeed the most compelling economic struggle of our time.  Advocates for change are gaining ground.  Compared to the vote a decade ago on NAFTA, which carried by a margin of only thirty-four votes, this vote was even more razor thin.  It barely crawled across the finish line.  Those that sought to quash our voices failed and the worthiness of our cause forced them to work hard for every vote they eked out.  The toe-to-toe nature of this battle, as NAFTA before it, shows the moral ground on which we stand is firm. 

“The American people stand with us as we struggle forward to place the highest principles of a free people in these trade accords.  Onward to the future with our cause that will not rest until justice to all people, not just the global economic giants, finally prevail.”

Kaptur recently received a 100 percent rating from the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) for the first and second sessions of the 108th Congress.  The NHLA compiled the legislative scorecard to inform Latinos about Senators and Members of Congress’s record on issues of importance to Latino communities.

Baldemar Velásquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), has also been opposed to such a NAFTA-extension with DR-CAFTA.

In Washington , D.C. , Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Democratic Leader, stated, “I oppose CAFTA because it is a step backward for workers in Central America and it is a job killer.” The Congressional Hispanic Caucus agreed.

But Bush hails vote

Bush hailed the vote. “CAFTA helps ensure that free trade is fair trade,” he said in a statement issued by the White House. “By lowering trade barriers to American goods in Central American markets to a level now enjoyed by their goods in the U.S., this agreement will level the playing field and help American workers, farmers and small businesses.’’

The United States signed the accord, known as CAFTA, a year ago with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, and the Senate approved it last month, 56-44 [S-1307]. It now goes to Bush for his signature.

To capture a majority, supporters had to overcome what some have called free trade fatigue, a growing sentiment that free trade deals such as NAFTA have contributed to a loss of well-paying U.S. jobs and the soaring trade deficit.

Democrats, who were overwhelmingly against CAFTA, also argued that its labor rights provisions were weak and would result in exploitation of workers in Central America .

But supporters said that CAFTA would over time eliminate tariffs and other trade barriers that impede U.S. sales to the region, correcting the current situation in which 80 percent of Central American goods enter the United States duty-free but U.S. Americans must pay heavy tariffs.

“This is a test of American leadership in a changing world,’’ said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, a leading proponent of the agreement. “We cannot claim to be fighting for American jobs and yet turn our backs on 44 million new customers in Central America .

In the end, it was the national security argument—that rejection of the deal would further impoverish the region, undermine their democracies and exacerbate the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States —that appeared to persuade some wavering members.

The president, said White House press secretary Scott McLellan, stressed to Republicans “the importance of supporting young and emerging democracies in our own hemisphere, and the importance of strengthening democracy here in our own hemisphere. And that was something that clearly resonated with members of the House.”

“It is good for our national security in supporting these fledgling democracies at our back door,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, sponsor of the bill.

To allay lawmakers’ concerns about the U.S. sugar and textile industries, the administration also won over several Republicans by pledging protection from Central American imports.

Not all were convinced. Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., who voted against the accord, said he told Bush that his late mother was a textile worker and that when textile workers urged him to vote against CAFTA, “said to the president, ‘it’s my mamma talking to me.’’’

Some textile groups now support the pact because it could help Central American clothing manufacturers, which buy large quantities of U.S. fabric and material, compete against Chinese goods, which have almost no U.S. content.

The House on Wednesday also passed legislation strengthening the monitoring of China’s trade policies, a bill that GOP leaders brought to the floor to satisfy several lawmakers who were undecided on CAFTA because they said the United States wasn’t tough enough in enforcing trade laws.

Bush has invested considerable time and effort to winning approval of CAFTA. For example, he invited the leaders of all six nations to a White House meeting and has spoken to Latino and business groups and with dozens of lawmakers.

In addition to the six new CAFTA nations and the NAFTA nations Canada and México, the United States has free trade agreements with Australia , Chile , Singapore , Jordan and Israel . Congress has also approved a free trade pact with Morocco that has yet to go into effect.

Editor’s Note: The House bill is H.R. 3045. Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report. 


Final Vote Results for Roll Call 443

Summary of the House Bill 3045

Membership of the 109th Congress: A Profile PDF  





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