It’s serious flashback time for those involved in the 1993 debate over the North America Free Trade Agreement. With the “fast track” trade vote expected as early as this Thursday, a Democratic president is once again twisting arms and dangling rewards in a desperate effort to muster votes for a corporate-driven trade deal. And just like in 1993, the vote will be one of those rare bipartisan moments in Washington. The word is only about a dozen members  remain on the fence, most of them Democrats. The president is reportedly putting the tightest screws  on members of the Congressional Black Caucus. After the NAFTA wheeling and dealing began in earnest back in 1993, it didn’t take long to push enough Dems off the fence. All these years later, NAFTA remains the basic blueprint for every U.S. trade deal.
Let me skip over NAFTA’s failure to deliver on promises for workers, the environment, human rights, etc. These have all been extensively documented  over the years by the Institute for Policy Studies, and many others across the continent. President Obama acknowledged its flaws himself when he made a campaign trail promise to renegotiate the deal . Instead, let’s take a look at what individual members got by helping to ram the pact through Congress. Did their support for the big business lobby’s dream deal ensure a glittering political career?
Starting at the top: Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley sided with the White House and against most of the House Democrats, including Majority Leader Richard Gephardt. In his 30-year political career, that controversial move stood out enough for the New York Times to mention it in Foley’s obituary . A year after the NAFTA vote, the obit noted, “Mr. Foley became the first speaker since the Civil War to be defeated for re-election in his own district.”
Ouch. While Foley’s defeat can’t be attributed to a single factor, his decision to side with the corporate lobby on NAFTA certainly didn’t prevent his electoral humiliation either.
Foley was not the only Democrat to flame out within a year of casting a vote for NAFTA. In fact, of the 34 Democratic incumbents who were defeated in the Republican sweep of 1994, 16 had voted for NAFTA. Several of these losers had been among the fence-sitters who received goodies from the administration.
Public Citizen has meticulously documented many of these trade vote deals over the past two decades and is planning to release a new report this week on the lessons from all this horse-trading. (Look for the report soon here .) What it found over the years is that most of these promises were never fulfilled. In a detailed 2001 report following up on the NAFTA  deals, Public Citizen concluded that “systematically, the White House promises of special safeguards for U.S. farm commodities, bridges and more remained unfulfilled. Exceptions were several meaningless promises, such as photographs with the president, and one campaign fund-raising event.”