Free Trade, Free Markets: Rating the 105th Congress

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Debate over America's engagement in the global economy has beenoversimplified into a battle between isolationists and freetraders, whereas the ultimate struggle is between those who supporta truly free market and those who favor government intervention,such as tariffs, subsidies, and bailouts, in the internationalmarketplace.

Protection and subsidies alike deny Americans the freedom tospend and invest their resources as they choose. They diminish ournational wealth by diverting resources to less productive butpolitically favored sectors of the economy. Subsidies underminesupport for an open economy by tainting the cause of free trade asjust another favor for big business.

An examination of congressional votes on trade and subsidiesshows that members of the 105th Congress can be classified intofour categories: free traders, who support trade and opposesubsidies; internationalists, who support both trade and subsidies;isolationists, who oppose both trade and subsidies; andinterventionists, who oppose trade and support subsidies.

Only 25 members of the House and 12 of the Senate fit thecategory of free traders, voting more than half the time inopposition to both trade restrictions and international economicsubsidies. House members who voted the most consistently for freetrade 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 bestfree-trade voting record.

In the House, 106 members, or 25 percent, voted asinternationalists; 49, or 11 percent, voted as isolationists; and249, a majority of 58 percent, voted as interventionists. In theSenate, 55 voted as internationalists, 14 as isolationists, and 19as interventionists.

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

Members of Congress do not need to choose between theisolationism of Pat Buchanan and the internationalism of PresidentClinton. They can choose to vote for a coherent agenda toliberalize trade and eliminate subsidies.

Daniel Griswold

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