by Jonathan Singer, Tue Mar 27, 2007 at 04:57:45 PM EDT
With the recent successes of Congressional Democrats at passing legislation that, if signed into law, would fundamentally change American policy towards Iraq and which, at the least, for once and for all puts Republicans on the record as supporting an unending U.S. military presence in Iraq, it is possible to overlook the fact that the new Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate are having tangible effects upon other areas of American politics. The prosecutor purge scandal, which is being watched more closely by Americans than other previous scandals like the one that centered on the fall of the savings and loan industry or those surrounding Tom DeLay, Jim Wright and Dan Rostenkowski, and upon which the vast majority of Americans agree with the Democratic insistence that Bush administraton officials testify when subpoenaed by Congress, is a good example of this -- but it's not the only one. In Wednesday's issue of The Hill, for instance, Ian Swanson reports on the tough stance House Democrats are taking on the issue of trade, which provides a stark contrast to the willingness of Republican Congresses past to accept any trade legislation put forward by President Bush no matter how deleterious such bills would be to most Americans.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) yesterday unveiled a set of conditions he said must be met before the administration's trade agenda in the Democratic Congress moves forward.
Rangel presented the wide-ranging policy, which covered everything from labor rights to port security, at a noon meeting of the Democratic Caucus where the points won an endorsement, he said. Rangel previously shared such policy details in separate meetings on March 23 and Monday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Following the caucus meeting, Rangel presented his ideas to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, as well as to top Ways and Means Republicans, with a simple message.
"All we have said was that we have won the election. We are in the majority. It just makes sense that we should not have to beg for consideration of things that we think would be good for trade and good for America," Rangel told reporters.
Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Ways and Means trade subcommittee, said that text in the pending free-trade agreements (FTAs) must be altered to meet Democratic demands, and that Democrats would work to meet the end-of-month deadline. He also indicated other options could be considered.
Levin said fast track could be extended if the administration were willing to fit the Democratic principles into the current fast-track authority, but he questioned whether the administration would agree to such terms.
In recent years, Iraq has not been the only area of policy that the Bush White House has sought to dominate by executive fiat and Congressional Republican submission. But that has largely changed since Democrats assumed power on Capitol Hill as evidenced by these strong statements by Rangel and Levin, as well as other recent instances such as Barbara Boxer's smackdown of Jim Inhofe at the Congressional hearing on climate change at which Al Gore testified.
And getting beyond the overarching discussion of what Democratic control over Congress has done to change Washington, the move by Rangel and Levin to force the administration's hand on trade, requiring the White House to rework trade agreements so that they are not stacked against the American worker, many American businesses, America's national security and the environment in the world (not to mention workers and others in the countries with which the deals have been negotiated), is much needed in this country today. I will not argue that there are not some benefits to the liberalization of trade barriers. But to do so without regard to workers' rights, the environment and the safety of nations signing such deals can in fact go far to weaken the countries involved. So if the Bush administration is not willing to go back and renegotiate its pending trade agreements, it won't be such a great loss to America -- or other nations, either -- if the deals are put on hold for a couple years until a saner administration is in office.