The House narrowly approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement this morning, delivering a hard-fought victory to President Bush while underscoring the nation’s deep divisions over trade.
The 217 to 215 vote came just after midnight, in a dramatic finish that highlighted the intensity brought by both sides to the battle. When the usual 15-minute voting period expired at 11:17 p.m., the no votes outnumbered the yes votes by 180 to 175, with dozens of members undeclared. House Republican leaders kept the voting open for another 47 minutes, furiously rounding up holdouts in their own party until they had secured just enough to ensure approval.
The House vote was effectively the last hurdle — and by far the steepest — facing CAFTA, which will tear down barriers to trade and investment between the United States, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
During last night’s debate, which lasted 2 1/2 hours, the bitterness of the Democrats’ opposition shone through in condemnations such as that by Ohio’s Dennis J. Kucinich, who thundered: “CAFTA is for multinational companies who want to make a profit by shutting plants in the United States and moving to places with cheap labor.”
The Democrats voting in favor were Reps. Victor F. Snyder (Ark.), Melissa L. Bean (Ill.), Dennis Moore (Kan.), William J. Jefferson (La.), Ike Skelton (Mo.), Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), Edolphus Towns (N.Y.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), John S. Tanner (Tenn.), Henry Cuellar (Tex.), Ruben Hinojosa (Tex.), Solomon P. Ortiz (Tex.), Jim Matheson (Utah), James P. Moran Jr. (Va.) and Norman D. Dicks (Wash.).
Jim Davis is not on this list. Call and thank him for doing the right thing.
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In west-central Florida, Reps. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, and Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, voted for CAFTA. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, who is running for governor and usually supports free trade, voted against it.
Davis said he primarily voted no because he had concerns that the administration would not hold CAFTA countries accountable for enforcement of labor and environmental laws.
“Trade agreements are promises, and promises are only good if they are kept,” he said.