The House passed CAFTA, but it was how it was passed that matters more in the short term:
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…
To win, the White House and GOP congressional leaders had to overcome resistance from dozens of Republican members who were also loath to vote for the accord because of issues ranging from the perceived threat to the U.S. sugar industry to more general worries about the impact of global trade on U.S. jobs.
Rep. Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), the chief deputy majority whip, said as members left the Capitol that trade votes are always hard but that this one was especially so for Republicans because “the other side really ramped this up and made this a political vote.”
Before the vote, GOP leaders, who had negotiated deals in recent days to sway Republicans, made it clear they were prepared to twist arms. “It will be a tough vote, but we will pass CAFTA tonight,” House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) told reporters yesterday morning. “And we will do it with very few Democrats on board…”
Underscoring the importance that Bush attaches to the pact, he put his prestige on the line by making a rare appearance with Vice President Cheney at the weekly closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference. Bush spoke for an hour, lawmakers said, stressing the national security implications of CAFTA, which are rooted in the concern that growing anti-American sentiment in Latin America would flourish if the United States refused to open its markets wider to the nations that negotiated the pact.
I really long for the day when we were the good guys. Now we are nothing more than a bunch of arm-twisting thugs, big mouth bully boys, and we simply bend the rules to suit our needs. We look less like a national governing party than a bunch of union thugs.
CAFTA may or may not be a good bill, but it wasn’t worth selling our soul to pass. These sorts of shenanigans have got to stop, and we have got to stop acting like a bunch of arrogant goons who think they have a divine right to rule. I am sick of it.
*** Update ***
From the comments, this history lesson:
In the 22 years that Democrats ran the House after the electronic voting system was put in place, there was only one time when the vote period substantially exceeded the 15 minutes. At the end of the session in 1987, under Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, the vote on the omnibus budget reconciliation bill—a key piece of legislation—was one vote short of passage when one of the bill’s supporters, Marty Russo of Illinois, took offense at something, changed his vote to no, and left to catch a plane to his home district in Chicago. He was unaware that his switch altered the ultimate outcome. Caught by surprise, Wright kept the vote tally open for an extra 15 to 20 minutes until one of his aides could find another member, fellow Texan Jim Chapman, and draw him out of the cloakroom to change his nay vote to aye and pass the bill. Republicans went ballistic, using the example for years as evidence of Democrats’ autocratic style and insensitivity to rules and basic fairness.
In 1995, soon after the Republicans gained the majority, Speaker Newt Gingrich declared his intention to make sure that votes would consistently be held in the 15-minute time frame. The “regular practice of the House,” he said would be “a policy of closing electronic votes as soon as possible after the guaranteed period of 15 minutes.” The policy was reiterated by Speaker Dennis J. Hastert when he assumed the post.
The reaction to the abuse of the vote limit in 1987? Predictable:
In 1987, when then-House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) employed a pale version of this practice—keeping the vote open an extra 15 minutes—Republicans denounced this as an outrageous departure from regular order. Then-Rep. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) railed against “Jim Wright and his goons.” And a Republican congressman named Dick Cheney denounced the move as “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.” Funny, but Vice President Cheney doesn’t seem nearly so outraged now.
What just happened on the House floor was nonsense.