We've got to give it to Idaho's congressional Reps., Butch Otter and Mike Simpson. In an era where politicians who dissent from the presidential path are treated with all the respect and loyalty of cowboy boot-scrapings, both congressmen came down on the rebellious side of two of their leader's most contentious offerings: the Patriot Act and the Central American Free Trade Act (CAFTA). Not that their opposition did a lick of good in either case.
CAFTA, which reduces trade barriers with a number of Central American and Caribbean countries, slid through the House of Representatives just after midnight on July 28, by a vote of 217 yeas to 215 nays. Democratic opponents argued that the trade pact sets a dangerous precedent, encouraging companies to shift production to countries that offer poverty-level wages and insufficient worker safeguards. Simpson eschewed such lily-livered justifications, and focused in on Idaho's sweet spot: the beets. White gold. Texas tea ... sweetener.
"I made it clear to our trade negotiators that if they included sugar in CAFTA, I would vote against it," Simpson said after the vote. "They ignored my warnings and I stuck by my threat." Simpson says that CAFTA will put hundreds of Idaho farms at risk by increasing sugar imports from Central America, and it may open the door for similar ravages by future trade agreements.
On the upside, since Bush signed CAFTA into law on August 1, enough textile plants could move south to bring the price of T-shirts down a few cents per ton.