NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Free Trade Unpopular in Congress

February 6, 2003

Despite all the hype about globalization and free-market policies, governments around the world, including that of the United States, continue to intervene in the flow of goods, services, people and capital across international borders. That widespread intervention takes two basic forms: barriers that discourage trade and subsidies that encourage domestic production and exports.

Well-worn labels such as "internationalist" and "isolationist" do not fully capture the choices lawmakers face when deciding international commercial policy. The choice is not between engagement and isolation but between the free market and all forms of government intervention, including both barriers and subsidies to trade.

On the basis of their voting records, members of the 107th Congress can be classified in four categories: free traders, who oppose both trade barriers and subsidies; internationalists, who oppose barriers and support subsidies; isolationists, who support barriers and oppose subsidies; and interventionists, who support barriers and subsidies.

An analysis of voting on 30 key issues in the 107th Congress finds few members of Congress voting consistently for free trade.

  • Only 15 House members opposed barriers and subsidies in more than two-thirds of the votes they cast.
  • The most consistent free traders in the House were Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Charles Bass (R-N.H.), Richard Armey (R-Tex.), Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), Phil Crane (R-Ill.), Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), and John Sununu (R-N.H.).
  • Of the other members, 70 voted as internationalists, 9 as isolationists, and 36 as interventionists. The rest had mixed voting records.

In the Senate, 22 members voted as free traders.

  • Those with perfect free trader voting records were Sam Brownback (R-Kans.), Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Don Nickles (R-Okla.), Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), and Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.).
  • Of the other senators, 12 voted as internationalists, 2 as isolationists, and 22 as interventionists. The rest had mixed voting records.

Source: Daniel Griswold, "Free Trade, Free Markets: Rating the 107th Congress," Trade Policy Analysis No. 22, January 30, 2003, Cato Institute.

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