Friday, July 29, 2005

Union Chief Rips Bean For Backing Trade Pact

Political Reporter
Chicago Sun-Times

Freshman Democrat Melissa Bean will "pay a serious price" for voting for the Central American Free Trade Agreement in the U.S. House, a top labor leader said Thursday, predicting that unions will deny her crucial support in her effort to hold on to her northwest suburban congressional seat.

"Almost all the unions in this particular area supported her both with mobilization -- knocking on doors -- and with money, and up comes what is a true test in terms of a vote, and she can't stand with us?" said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest union in the AFL-CIO.

"She'll certainly feel an effect in terms of contributions and resources," McEntee said. "She'll pay a serious price with the workers in her area."

Leaders, workers feel 'betrayed'

Illinois AFL-CIO President Margaret Blackshere said one local labor leader told her he was considering looking for a candidate to challenge Bean in the Democratic primary in the 8th Congressional District.

"They are angry. They feel betrayed," Blackshere said. "It will be difficult for her to get support in the future."

Bean became a top GOP target after she ousted longtime Republican incumbent Phil Crane last year. In that race, labor unions gave the Barrington Democrat $235,200 -- nearly 49 percent of the political action money she took in, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This year, labor has kicked in at least $67,500.

As the AFL-CIO's convention adjourned at Navy Pier, national President John Sweeney told the Chicago Sun-Times he is "really angry" at Bean and the other Democratic defectors. But he said local union leaders will decide whether to support Bean's re-election.

"She's probably out of touch with her district," Sweeney said. "When's the last time she talked to workers about this?"

Bean was one of 15 House Democrats -- and the only one in Illinois -- to vote Wednesday for the trade agreement, called CAFTA, which squeaked through 217-215 after earlier passing the Senate.

Bean defends her vote

CAFTA eliminates tariffs and other trade barriers between the United States and Costa Rica, the Dominican Republican, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Union officials argue it will cost U.S. jobs, allow foreign employers to exploit workers and fail to protect the environment.

Bean said she voted for CAFTA, even though it "is not perfect," because it will eliminate foreign taxes paid by Baxter Healthcare, Abbott Labs, Boeing, Motorola and other companies in or near her district, allowing them to broaden their markets and create jobs.

"My primary responsibility is to support the interests of my constituents," she said. "On balance, they will benefit from CAFTA."

Business leaders hailed her vote and said it could bring her more corporate support.

"It was a courageous vote on her part," said Douglas Whitley, president and chief executive officer of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Punish the CAFTA 15

By Peter Rothberg
The Nation Magazine

Last night, President Bush eked out a very narrow victory on his top trade priority, with the House of Representatives approving a free-trade agreement with Central American countries by just two votes. The House vote was held open for more than one hour to ensure passage. The final tally was 217 to 215.

The White House's victory on CAFTA was achieved through a combination of intense pressure and outright bribery to secure support for the measure, which fostered strong opposition from Democrats and Republicans. As Republican Representative C.L. "Butch" Otter, Republican of Idaho, told the Boston Globe today, GOP leaders promised pork-barrel spending and future legislation to undecided members, with a massive highway spending bill scheduled to be completed this week as a prime location for pet projects. "They're pulling out all the stops," Otter said. "They're either promising or threatening. They've done everything they could." (The Idaho rep. said he opposed CAFTA, despite personal lobbying from Bush at the White House.)

At least the GOP legislators were able to wrest unrelated bribes for their districts in return for their votes. That much cannot be said for the 15 so-called Democrats who voted for the pact and made passage possible.

As Jonathan Tasini writes in his excellent blog, The Working Life, "If we ever want to make politicians take us seriously when it comes to important laws touching the lives of workers, we must punish the 15 so-called Democrats who voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)--and punish them hard."

Click here to see whose these 15 are and what to do to make clear to them your anger over their pro-CAFTA votes.

CAFTA Vote Outs "Bush Democrats"

By John Nichols
The Nation Magazine

The Central American Free Trade Agreement, which was such a high priority for the Bush administration that the president personally lobbied Congressional Republicans on the issue Wednesday, passed the House by two votes.

Those two votes came from members who can best be described as "Bush Democrats."
The final vote on CAFTA was 217-215 in favor of the deal, the closest margin possible -- as a tie vote would have prevented approval.

Of the 217 supporters of the bill, 202 were Republicans and 15 were Democrats.

Of the 215 opponents of the bill, 187 were Democrats, 27 were Republicans and one was an independent, Vermont's Bernie Sanders.

The Republicans who split with the president withstood immense pressure from the White House and corporate lobbyists in order to take a stand with the organized labor, environmental, farm and international human rights groups that opposed the agreement. They were so courageous and so consistent in their determination to block the president's agenda that, during the floor debate, Representative Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat who led opposition to CAFTA, specifically praised Republicans such as Idaho's Butch Otter and North Carolina's Walter Jones for their efforts.

On the other hand, the Democrats who supported Bush's agenda faced little or no pressure from the White House. Nor did they show anything akin to courage or consistency. They simply voted with the White House because, either they agree with the president's misguided approach to global trade or they thought they could trade their votes for big contributions from the corporate interests that see the NAFTA/CAFTA model of free trade as an opportunity to improve business bottom lines at the expense of workers, the environment and communities in the U.S. and Latin America.

Let's give the Bush Democrats the benefit of the doubt and accept that they actually support the corporate model for trade that Bush backs. This puts them at odds with mainstream Democrats on what can only be described as the most fundamental of economic issues -- as trade deals get into the core questions of whether American workers will have jobs, whether communities can maintain their industrial bases, whether government has the power to protect the environment, and whether the U.S. government will be a willing co-conspirator in the exploitation of men, women and children in developing countries.

So, unless they are crooks who trade their votes for campaign checks, the Bush Democrats are supporters of a corporate agenda that Representative Robert Menendez -- a New Jersey Democrat who has a long history of involvement with Latin American affairs -- explained during the CAFTA debate would harm U.S. workers and farmers while plunging Central American countries deeper into poverty and causing more Latin Americans to migrate to the U.S.

At the least, this suggests that the Bush Democrats -- Melissa Bean of Illinois, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Norm Dicks of Washington, Ruben Hinojosa of Texas, William Jefferson of Louisiana, Jim Matheson of Utah, Gregory Meeks of New York, Dennis Moore of Kansas, Jim Moran of Virginia, Solomon Ortiz of Texas, Ike Skelton of Missouri, Vic Snyder of Arkansas, John Tanner of Tennessee, and Edolphus Towns of New York -- are on the wrong side of history, and of humanity.

But does this one vote, necessarily, make them Bush Democrats?

Let's look at where they lined up on other economic issues that matter to the Bush White House?

When the so-called "bankruptcy reform" bill came up earlier this year, the White House and Wall Street favored a "yes" vote to make it harder for working Americans who get hit with a medical emergency or some other form of crisis to get back on their feet financially. Twelve of the pro-CAFTA Democrats -- Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Jefferson, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran, Ortiz, Skelton and Tanner -- voted with the White House.

On the so-called "tort-reform" legislation that passed the House earlier this year, and which will make it dramatically harder for individuals who are wronged by corporations to hold them accountable, nine of pro-CAFTA Democrats voted with the White House and Wall Street: Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran and Tanner.

But what about other issues that are top White House priorities, such as the war in Iraq.

Of the pro-CAFTA Democrats, six backed the 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to go to war in Iraq: Dicks, Jefferson, Matheson, Moore, Skelton and Tanner, while another four were either not serving in the House or did not vote: Bean, Cooper, Cuellar and Ortiz.

When the House voted on California Democrat Lynn Woolsey's May, 2005 amendment that sought to begin taking steps to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, only Hinojosa, Jefferson, Meeks, Moran and Towns voted in favor of seeking an exit strategy. (On the question of whether to hand the Bush administration another $82 billion for the war, only Meeks and Towns voted for holding the White House accountable with regards to the war.)

So where does this leave us:

On fundamental economic issues, Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran and Tanner are consistent Bush Democrats.

On a broader array of issues, Hinojosa, Meeks and Moran move off the list.

But it is safe to say that, whether the issue is peace or prosperity, Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Matheson, Moore and Tanner take the side of a White House that has consistently been at odds with both those goals.

Progressives in the labor, environmental, human rights, consumer and peace movements will have to decide where to draw the line -- either by withdrawing active support or by aggressively promoting Democratic primary or third-party general election challenges -- with regards to the Bush Democrats. Some will decide, as key unions already have, to withhold backing of the 15 House Democrats who backed CAFTA.

Others will focus their anger on the nine who, using measures suggested by activist and writer David Sirota, are the most consistent backers of Bush's corporations-first economic agenda.
It is notable that, of the six members who are with Bush when it comes to the economy and the war, Bean, Matheson and Moore come from swing districts where they are likely to be extremely vulnerable in the fall of 2006. Cooper, Cuellar and Tanner come from more decidedly Democratic districts where they might well be more vulnerable to Democratic primary challenges.

Of the rest of the pro-CAFTA 15, Dicks, Hinojosa, Jefferson, Meeks, Moran, Ortiz, Skelton, Snyder and Towns come from districts that trend Democratic -- although Skelton's Missouri district and Snyder's Arkansas district, could be swing turf.

By most measures, however, Dicks, Hinojosa, Jefferson, Meeks, Moran, Ortiz and Towns represent districts where an economic populist challenge in a Democrat primary could be significant.

The safe bet is that, in the next Congress, most of these members will still be present. But if even one or two Bush Democrats fall, either because of their CAFTA vote or because of a broader pattern of backing the White House on economic and foreign affairs issues, the president will have to look deeper into his own Republican caucus for support. He won't be able to rely on the Bush Democrats, as was the case with CAFTA.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Dem Sellouts: Start Looking For Another Job

By David Sirota

We now know who the 15 Democrats are that each undermined their party and America's middle class by casting the deciding vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The bill passed by one vote, meaning each of the 15 Democrats cast the deciding vote.

When 27 Republicans vote against their own party leadership as they did on CAFTA, Democrats have only these 15 sellouts within their ranks - and groups like the DLC that pushed CAFTA - to blame for the fact that the Democratic Party has been relegated to permanent minority status. The 15 Democratic sellouts were:

Melissa Bean (IL)Jim Cooper (TN)Henry Cuellar (TX)Norm Dicks (WA)Ruben Hinojosa (TX)William Jefferson (LA)Jim Matheson (UT)Greg Meeks (NY)Dennis Moore (KS)Jim Moran (VA)Solomon Ortiz (TX)Ike Skelton (MO)Vic Snyder (AR)John Tanner (TN)Ed Towns (NY)

Let's be clear - all of these people should never get a red cent from labor unions or the progressive community again, and that goes even for the ones who represent marginal districts. The idea that this was a "tough vote" for a Democrat who represents a swing district doesn't hold water - no one is getting voted out of office over voting against CAFTA, and voting for American workers. Remember, polls show that Americans are sick and tired of Congress passing these corporate-written "free" trade deals that sell out ordinary workers.

But, let's further break this down. Which of these 15 Members has CONSISTENTLY been selling out the Democratic Party and America's middle class? The way we find that out is by looking at other recent votes on key economic issues, such as the Bankruptcy Bill, and the bill to limit citizens' legal rights and protect corporations that abuse Americans.

Starting with bankruptcy, we get the list whittled down to 12: Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Jefferson, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran, Ortiz, Skelton and Tanner.

Moving to the bill that limits citizens' legal rights and protects corporations that abuse ordinary Americans, the list gets whittled down to 9: Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran and Tanner.

These are the 9 Democrats who are the difference between House Democrats being in the majority and the minority - they are the people who undermine the vast majority of honest/courageous Democrats who fight for ordinary people in Congress everyday. They are the ones who make it consistenly impossible for Democrats to deliver a message that they are the party that stands up for ordinary working people in this country. The fact is, if Democrats are going to be in the minority for the forseeable future, it would be better if these folks were defeated, because they do more harm than good to a party that desperately needs unity to let America knows what it stands for.

Again, while I have described why it is ridiculous to give a pass to any of these 9 because they represent marginal districts, even if you sort out for that the number barely changes. Winning with 55% or more of the vote is considered crushing an opponent - and only Melissa Bean falls under that threshold. The 8 others win by 55% or better, meaning they don't even have the pathetic/dishonest "I'm a marginal Member so I have to sell out American workers" excuse: Cooper (69%) , Cuellar (59%), Hinojosa (58%), Matheson (55%), Meeks (100% - unopposed), Moore (55%), Moran (60%), and Tanner (74%).

In an earlier post today, I mentioned that Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY) ought to be frightened of the Working Families Party and the progressive community in New York City. But he's not the only one on this list that better be nervous about their job as an insulated career politician. Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), for instance, has been dogged by controversy throughout his career, including actually personally profiting from his previous sellouts to the credit card industry. Maybe this will be the vote that draws him the strong primary challenger needed to defeat him in his solidly progressive district.

To sum up - each of these 15 Democrats ought to pay a price at the polls for their brazen sell out tonight on CAFTA. They undermined their party and America's workers. And the 9 Democrats of these 15 that have been consistently stabbing the Democratic Party in the back - well, they have shown an unfathomable willingness to disregard anything other than corporate campaign cash. They are the reason why Americans are so cynical about the political process, why Democrats can't win key states like Ohio, and, in general, why Democrats are currently in permanent minority status.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Media, Money & Politics

By Bill Scheurer

With the end of the 2nd-Qtr filing period for Congressional candidates, our local newspapers like to tell us who has raised how much money. As if we care.

In the 2004 election up here in the 8th-District of Illinois, the two established parties spent $3.2 million on their Congressional campaigns, mostly on negative TV and mail ads. What did we learn from all this money?

That the Republican incumbent Phil Crane was a lobbyist junketeer, and that the Democratic challenger Melissa Bean did not live in the district. This is what passes for a “message” these days, and our press lets them get away with it.

Are local newspapers now as jaded and useless as TV news? If so, spare the trees.

When will the media understand that we the voters (and viewers, and listeners, and readers) do not care about the “inside baseball” of politics, “handicapping” the race, and all the other shopworn sports metaphors? Don’t tell us who is viable and who is not. Tell us what we need to know to exercise our civic responsibilities.

Maybe the media and political pros believe money is everything, but we do not. If so, why bother to vote at all? Just count up the money and tell us who wins.

Here is an idea. How about telling us what the candidates say and do?

How about telling us their ideas? About little things like -- oh, I don’t know -- how they propose to get us out of the quagmire in Iraq, how they plan to stop piling up the crushing load of debt we are leaving for our children, how they would end our fatal dependency on foreign oil, how they would fix the national crisis of 45 million of our neighbors without health insurance -- you know, little things like that.

How about actually covering the campaigns? Who knows, you might actually like it?

Of course, it is easier to pull the financial filings and regurgitate them, but that is not news. It is not journalism worthy of the name.

Let’s try something different this year. How about doing your job? So we can do ours. There simply is too much at stake.

Bill Scheurer edits The PeaceMajority Report and ran in the 2004 Democratic primary.