NAFTA: Maryland Votes on the Line

November 05, 1993

With the North American Free Trade Agreement at last in the House hopper, the Maryland delegation in Congress may disgrace itself by finding common cause with those former Secretary of State James A. Baker III calls the fact-fudgers, the fear-mongers and the prophets of protectionism.

Of the eight representatives from Maryland, only two sure votes can be counted for NAFTA and both will be cast by Republicans -- Wayne Gilchrest from the Eastern Shore and Constance Morella of Montgomery County. The state's ultra-protectionist, Republican Helen Delich Bentley of Baltimore County, has long been a goner. And Western Maryland's new GOP congressman, Roscoe G. Bartlett, will march to Ross Perot's tin bugle by voting no.

But what really astounds is the distinct possibility that all four Democrats on the delegation will vote against the treaty, their governor and their president. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore City and Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County are adhering to the anti-NAFTA line laid down by the Black Caucus, of which Mr. Mfume is chairman. Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland is "leaning no" even though he is fourth-ranking Democrat in the House leadership. And Ben Cardin of Baltimore is on the fence, eagerly seeking home district concessions from the administration as cover against predictable Big Labor blasts should he dare to vote yes.

The prospect of losing the Hoyer and Cardin votes is troubling to the White House as it scrambles for votes, one member at time, even if it means selling Harry Truman's balcony. Both have long been regarded as internationalists who could look beyond parochial considerations. That they are either nay-sayers or reluctant go-alongs this late in the game is testimony to the steep uphill struggle for NAFTA before the House votes Nov. 17.

Bill Clinton has put his personal prestige on the line for an agreement negotiated by George Bush even though his political advisers consider it a poison pill. He even has pledged he will repudiate Democratic candidates in next year's congressional elections who attack Republican incumbents for pro-NAFTA votes. Why does he put his neck on the line? Because the president genuinely believes that passage of NAFTA is vital to U.S. leadership in world economic affairs and essential to good relations with all of Latin America. Because he is convinced that NAFTA will create jobs and safeguard the U.S. trading position in the hemisphere. Because he knows that a prospering, open-door Mexico is the best insurance for stability and reduced illegal immigration along our southern border.

We agree, without reservation. Indeed, we believe the position on NAFTA taken by each Maryland member of Congress should be of prime consideration when state voters go to the polls next year. This issue extends far beyond the economic pluses and minuses of the agreement, which will be negligible so far as they impact the giant U.S. economy. It reflects how Maryland's lawmakers view the world and the U.S. role in that world.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.