In today’s Washington Post, Daniel Gross details the extent to which the Republican Party under George W. Bush has abandoned the idea of free trade:
Since 2000, Bush Republicans have done as much as Democrats, if not more, to erect trade barriers and tariffs. President Bush has talked a good game about free trade, and his administration has negotiated bilateral free trade agreements with Australia, Colombia, Morocco and several other countries. But just as free trade was a bipartisan project in the 1990s, this decade’s anti-trade backlash has been bipartisan as well. Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) share little in common besides a desire to slap huge protective tariffs on Chinese goods. And all by themselves, Republicans have done great damage to the cause of free trade in the past several years.
A few examples:
In March 2002, for example, Bush proudly signed “temporary safeguards” that imposed tariffs of 8 percent to 30 percent on most steel imports for three years. This was a classic Karl Rove option play: Advance the Republican cause in formerly Democratic strongholds of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia at the expense of the companies and workers in industries nationwide that consume steel
In May 2002, Bush signed the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, which Republicans passed without much help from Democrats. Just six years after President Bill Clinton signed the 1996 Farm Bill, which slashed agricultural subsidies, Bush jacked up federal payments by as much as 80 percent for cash crops such as soybeans and corn and offered new subsidies for crops such as peanuts and lentils. He even revived the subsidies on honey, wool and mohair that Clinton had killed.
Earlier this year, Bush proposed dropping the absurd 54 cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol, first enacted in 1980 (although he didn’t recommend cutting the 51 cent-per gallon tax credit for domestic ethanol producers). The Republican Congress, filled with members from big corn-producing states, said no.
In mid-November, more than 60 Republicans voted against a proposed free-trade deal with Vietnam, supplying the margin of defeat and embarrassing the president on the eve of a state visit.
And, in case you’ve forgotten history:
Smoot and Hawley were Republicans. And so was President Herbert Hoover, who signed that disastrous legislation into law. Today, the protectionist gene may no longer be dominant among Republicans, but it’s still an important part of the GOP’s DNA.
Remind me again why the GOP is the pro-market party.