With Congress scheduled to adjourn at the end of the week, the Bush administration and Republican leadership on Capitol Hill are working around-the-clock in an all-out effort to secure passage of the Central American Free Trade Agreement before the August recess.
The Senate approved the controversial trade bill 54-45 on June 30, but opponents of the measure within the House of Representatives have maintained a steady resistance. Critics include not only Democrats, but Republicans concerned about CAFTA’s threat to U.S. independence and its potential to draw American manufacturing jobs south of the border.
To rally support within Republican ranks, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has requested “full attendance” of all members of the GOP Conference to attend a special meeting at 9 a.m. today, at which George W. Bush will speak. As is the conference’s policy, no staffers, no media, and no Democratic members of the House will be admitted to hear the president.
The House Republican Conference, made up of GOP members, exerts strong control over the legislative agenda, according to the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste. “The conference holds closed-door meetings to explicitly detail the party’s message on issues and to ensure that members vote accordingly,” CAGW reports.
No one knows when the vote on CAFTA will occur, but it could come as early as this afternoon. Or – as Tom DeLay put it – “it could come at 4 in the morning, “whenever we have the votes.”
Some 218 votes are needed for passage, and critics and proponents predict the outcome will be extremely close. Indeed, it could be decided by just one vote.
The insider publication Congress Daily reported yesterday that 123 House members plan to vote “yes” or are leaning toward “yes,” with 172 members planning to vote or leaning to vote “no.” That leaves 138 members who are undecided or not saying.
“That’ why President Bush is making a special effort to talk to House Republicans behind closed doors,” Kent Snyder, executive director of the Liberty Committee, told WorldNetDaily. “They know how close this vote is going to be. They know the grass-roots constituents from around the country are rallying against it, so they’re doing everything they can – selling bridges, giving away bridges, making promises they’ll never keep, they’re doing everything they can to get this through.
“Bush is going to put on the heavy hand, and if the leadership feels they have the votes they will walk out and give House members short notice that the vote is coming up. They want the whole thing over within 15 minutes.”
Snyder and the Liberty Committee have played a major role in mobilizing opposition to CAFTA within Republican ranks. The group is a nationwide network of grass-roots activists dedicated to restoring constitutional, limited government – using the Internet as a way to make their concerns known to their representatives in Congress. For months it has been urging opposition to the trade agreement, which the committee maintains would cause irreparable harm to the independence of this country.
Rep. Paul, R-Texas, founder of the Liberty Committee, says he opposes the treaty because it undercuts and circumvents the Constitution.
“I oppose CAFTA for a very simple reason: It is unconstitutional. The Constitution clearly grants Congress alone the authority to regulate international trade. The plain text of Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 is incontrovertible. Neither Congress nor the president can give this authority away by treaty, any more than they can repeal the First Amendment by treaty. This fundamental point, based on the plain meaning of the Constitution, cannot be overstated. Every member of Congress who votes for CAFTA is voting to abdicate power to an international body in direct violation of the Constitution.”
Last week Snyder made the unusual move of letting the public know how each representative intends to vote on CAFTA before the bill comes to the floor. A tally showing the members’ intentions had been compiled by the print publication Congress Daily, which polled each representative. But since Congress Daily is not posted on the Internet, Snyder retyped the list and sent it out via the Internet to the thousands of Liberty Committee members.
An updated list was posted late yesterday on the committee’s website.
“I figured the public would like to know some of this inside information which they never get,” Snyder says. He has heard that the phones in the members’ offices have been ringing non-stop ever since.