Friday, July 01, 2005

Politicians have ideological beliefs too

The Senate passed CAFTA yesterday with the GOP 43-12 in favor and the Democrats 33-11 opposed. The partisan split on "free trade" matters is not new and was also apparent when Clinton presented NAFTA to Congress in 1993. I think the reason for the split is primarily ideological rather than tied to different constituencies. Certainly labor unions are overwhelmingly opposed to free trade accords and are also overwhelmingly a Democratic constituency, but when labor unions aren't a player (i.e. farm subsidies) Democrats are still less supportive of "free trade" than Republicans. This isn't to say that Republican politicians are doctrinaire free traders, they clearly aren't, or that popular opinion doesn't affect how politicians act, just that the difference between Republicans and Democrats in Congress on "free trade" issues is principally based on different ideology not on different constituency.

Some may contest the claim that the Democrats push farm subsidies more than Republicans but they would be clearly wrong. In 1995 the new GOP Congress cut farm subsidies in their budget bill only to have Clinton veto it. In 1996 Congress (with a heavy partisan split) again cut farm subsidies and Clinton signed the bill with criticism. In 1998, the GOP Congress raised subsidies less than the Democrats wanted and Clinton vetoed the bill and the GOP surrendered and raised subsidies even more. In 2001 the Democratic controlled Senate passed significantly higher subsidies than the GOP House and only Bush's veto threat convinced the Senate Democrats to back down. In 2002, with an election in the offing, Bush and the House GOP (the vote was even in the House, the only time in my recollection that the Democrats didn't more heavily support subsidies in a vote) completely rolled over and supported a large subsidy increase.


Zev said...

I understand that the Dems are in favor of farm subsidies, but you have failed to convince me that they are against free trade for "ideological" purposes. The Clinton administration was very supportive of free trade (NAFTA in particular), which would indicate that it is just a matter of what is politically expedient, rather than partisan ideology.

Shmuli said...

First of all, I am not saying that ideology is the only explanation for every political position held by politicians, only that ideology is the only good explanation for the evident difference between Republicans and Democrats on farm subsidies. Most issues of political expediency apply to both parties. Secondly, I am not suggesting the Democrats have an ideological commitment to subsidize U.S. agriculture. I am only suggesting they have less of an ideological commitment to free trade than Republicans and that this difference, rather than campaign contributions or different constituencies, explains the partisan difference in positions on farm subsidies.

I also think there are different institutional incentives, so that the President is more likely to support free trade agreements than Congress. On this basis I would predict a President from either party being more favorable to free-trade than the typical Congressman from his party. Clinton, of course, was more more favorable to free-trade than the typical Congressional Democrat. I believe, though, that had a Republican been in his position, that Republican would likely have more favorable to free trade than Clinton was.

jacob said...

I think Clinton was as favorable to free trade as any Republican would have been. (remember bush's steel tariffs) That being said, Shmuli is still right that Dems by and large oppose free trade. NAFTA is a perfect example. Zev, you have to remember that most Dems opposed NAFTA and it was only because the Republicans supported it that it passed.
I also think that both parties are accepting that free trade is a good thing. Most opposition to free trade is now based on regional politics more than ideology.

Zev said...

Can anyone tell me how the congressional vote on NAFTA broke down vis a vis the vote on CAFTA?

Shmuli said...

Jacob - I disagree. First of all, I think it obvious that a Republican president would have been a more pro free trade on farm subsidies. Secondly, even on NAFTA, Clinton's premier free trade achievement, Clinton took the agreement already negotiated by the Bush 41 administration and watered it down slightly before presenting it to Congress. Third, Bush's steel tariffs were imposed in a different political context. When the economy is ralatively worse protectionist sentiment tends to be stronger among the populace. Moreover, Bush's move was partly motivated to ease the Congressional passage of fast track authority which had lapsed in 1994. Only with fast track was Bush able to negotiate CAFTA and other trade agreements. Clinton did very little in negotiating trade agreements after 1993 partly because fast track authority had lapsed. Further, the criticism Bush received from Democratic politicians regarding the steel tariffs was that he removed them after the WTO ruled against them, not that he imposed them in the first place.

Zev- In the House Democrats voted against NAFTA 156 - 102 while Republicans supported NAFTA 132 - 43. In the Senate Democrats voted against NAFTA 28 - 27 while Republicans supported it 34 - 10.