Free Trade, Free Markets: Rating the 108th Congress

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American trade policy needs fresh thinking, beginning with thedefinition of "free trade." Traditionally, free trade has beendefined as the lowering and elimination of barriers to trade, but amore comprehensive and accurate definition should includeopposition to trade subsidies. Those subsidies, including theExport-Import Bank and agricultural price supports, distort tradeby shifting trade and the use of productive resources away fromwhat Americans would choose in a truly free market.

If we define free trade to include opposition to trade subsidiesas well as trade barriers, members of the 108th Congress can beclassified into four categories: free traders, who oppose bothtrade barriers and subsidies; internationalists, who opposebarriers and support subsidies; isolationists, who support barriersand oppose subsidies; and interventionists, who support barriersand subsidies.

An analysis of voting on 23 key issues in the 108th Congressfinds that few members vote consistently for free trade. In theHouse, 22 Republicans and 3 Democrats opposed barriers andsubsidies in more than two-thirds of the votes they cast. The mostconsistent free traders were Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Michael Castle(R-DE), Susan Davis (D-CA), Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Jim Ramstad(R-MN), Christopher Shays (R-CT), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Ofthe other members, 157 voted as internationalists, 2 asisolationists, and 16 as interventionists. The rest had mixedvoting records.

In the Senate, 15 Republicans and 9 Democrats voted as freetraders. The most consistent were John Sununu (R-NH), Wayne Allard(R-CO), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Pat Roberts (R-KS). Of the othersenators, 24 voted as internationalists, 15 as interventionists,and none as isolationists. The rest had mixed voting records.

A more extended examination of "career" voting on trade since1993 finds that the most consistent free traders were Rep. JeffFlake and Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.); the most consistentinternationalists were Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) and Sen. ZellMiller (D-GA); the most consistent isolationists were Rep. JohnDuncan Jr. (R-TN) and Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ); and the mostconsistent interventionists were Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-MO) andSen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (D-SC).

Daniel Griswold

Daniel Griswold is director of the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies.