About 24 hours ago, the United States Senate passed the "Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act" (full-text .pdf), approving hotly-debated CAFTA, 54-45.
If and when CAFTA passes the House of Representatives, it will mark a win for free trade, a win for President Bush's freedom agenda in the Americas (and a blow to the machinations of Hugo Chavez), and a win for American consumers.
Twelve Republicans and ten Democrats (+ Jeffords) broke the otherwise party-line vote. Counting Senator Jeffords as a Democrat, that means that 24% of Senate Democrats voted in favor of CAFTA; 22% of Republicans voted against it.
In some ways, the vote is a study in the power of special interests and oldschool coalition-building. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia only voted in favor of CAFTA after the White House pledged concessions to American sugar producers.
In other ways, the Senate passage of CAFTA is a triumph of free trade-- and a big win for American consumers-- over narrow special interests and short-term econo-political myopia ("OUTSOURCING!").
The Center for Responsive Politics points out that Senators who voted against CAFTA, predictably, received far more campaign cash from the sugar industry than those who voted against it:
Correlation? Causation? Reward? Bribe? Coincidence? You can be the judge of that. In the 2004 campaign cycle, Senate Democrats received 57% of sugar industry campaign contributions, while Republicans received 43%.
Indeed, the Democrats' opposition to CAFTA probably has very little to do with its relatively meager debt to the sugar industry. If you want to follow the money on the CAFTA vote, look no further than the vast sums of money contributed over the years by labor unions.
This fight over CAFTA also signifies an interesting political shift in this country. In 1993, with 56 Democratic Senators and only 44 Republicans, NAFTA passed the Senate 61-38-1. In that vote, 10 Republicans (or ~22% of the party) voted no; meanwhile 27 Democrats (48%) voted yes on NAFTA.
In other words, the closeness of the CAFTA vote was not an indication that Republicans are suddenly betraying their historical free trade principles. Rather, it was the Democrats who moved in a big way, away from free trade.
While I believe that every industry, every corporation, every union, and most importantly, every individual, should have close-to-unfettered rights to contribute money to political causes, it strikes me as thoroughly disingenuous and galling, in the face of mounting evidence of special interest control of the left's agenda, for the Chairman of the Democratic Party to label Republicans as the party of special interests. And the establishment media plays the role of enabler, time and time again.
I am Will W. Franklin, and I approved this message. My blog is WILLisms.com.