Trade Policy Analysis No. 6

Free Trade, Free Markets: Rating the 105th Congress

By Daniel Griswold
February 3, 1999

Debate over America’s engagement in the global economy has been oversimplified into a battle between isolationists and free traders, whereas the ultimate struggle is between those who support a truly free market and those who favor government intervention, such as tariffs, subsidies, and bailouts, in the international marketplace.

Protection and subsidies alike deny Americans the freedom to spend and invest their resources as they choose. They diminish our national wealth by diverting resources to less productive but politically favored sectors of the economy. Subsidies undermine support for an open economy by tainting the cause of free trade as just another favor for big business.

An examination of congressional votes on trade and subsidies shows that members of the 105th Congress can be classified into four categories: free traders, who support trade and oppose subsidies; internationalists, who support both trade and subsidies; isolationists, who oppose both trade and subsidies; and interventionists, who oppose trade and support subsidies.

Only 25 members of the House and 12 of the Senate fit the category of free traders, voting more than half the time in opposition to both trade restrictions and international economic subsidies. House members who voted the most consistently for free trade were Philip Crane (R-Ill.), Tom Campbell (R-Calif.), J. D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), and John Shadegg (R-Ariz.). In the Senate, Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) compiled the best free-trade voting record.

In the House, 106 members, or 25 percent, voted as internationalists; 49, or 11 percent, voted as isolationists; and 249, a majority of 58 percent, voted as interventionists. In the Senate, 55 voted as internationalists, 14 as isolationists, and 19 as interventionists.

Members elected since 1992 were slightly less inclined to support free trade than were more veteran lawmakers but were more inclined to oppose subsidies. Republicans in the House were twice as likely as Democrats to oppose import barriers and subsidies.

Members of Congress do not need to choose between the isolationism of Pat Buchanan and the internationalism of President Clinton. They can choose to vote for a coherent agenda to liberalize trade and eliminate subsidies.

Read the Full Trade Policy Analysis

Daniel T. Griswold is associate director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies.