An America First Coalition — To Save Steel

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Because the victory came after reporters left for the weekend, Friday’s historic vote never received the coverage it deserved. But that evening, an America First trade coalition was born, revealing its power by crushing the speaker’s own bill to renew “fast track” — Congress’ surrender of all rights to amend trade treaties.

By 243-180, the House thundered “no.”

The establishment dismisses the defeat as due to Democrats answering union calls. But review the roster of House Republicans who refused to give up their right to amend Bill Clinton’s treaties.

The committee chairs who stood up for U.S. economic security include Floyd Spence (National Security), Ben Gilman (International Relations), Don Young (Resources), Gerald Solomon (Rules), Bud Shuster (Transportation and Infrastructure) and William Goodling (Education and the Workforce). Key subcommittee chairs who oversee security and trade policy and refused to go along: Hal Rogers, Joe McDade, Ralph Regula, Frank Wolf, Chris Smith, Elton Gallegly, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Ed Royce, Howard Coble, Curt Weldon, John Duncan, Duncan Hunter.

This is a colonels’ revolt against Newt’s generals.

Other key Republicans like Porter Goss, chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Dan Burton, and Jim Saxton, chair of the Joint Economics Committee, abstained. Not since Harry Truman’s era, when a proposed United Nations of world trade was renounced by the “fighting 80th Congress” of Sen. Robert A. Taft has a key globalist initiative been routed.

Economic patriotism is now the first consideration in making trade policy of a majority of the people’s House. The Force is with us.

In 1993, only 43 Republicans voted against NAFTA. In 1994, 56 voted against GATT. Last year, fast track had to be pulled from the floor, but no one knew how many Republicans would vote to kill it, with Gerald Ford, George Bush and the U.S. Business Roundtable lobbying furiously. That 71 Republicans, a third of the House GOP, did on Friday is the harvest of a half decade of cultivation.

With economic nationalism strongest among the newer and younger members, while free trade is the ideology of the older and retiring members, the future shines bright. It is now time this bipartisan coalition moved off defense — battling International Monetary Fund bailouts and unfair trade deals — onto offense, writing an America First trade policy and imposing it on a weakened Clinton.

The place to begin is with steel.

First, a little history. Fifteen years ago, when the U.S. steel industry was being swamped by imports, Ronald Reagan stepped in and slammed on a quota. He provoked an uproar in the tax-exempt think tanks, but his intervention saved an industry the Gipper was not willing to see die the way the U.S. TV industry had — the victim of a fatal mugging by a Japanese cartel conspiracy.

The interlude Reagan bought, by locking in U.S. steel’s share of its own market, was used wisely, but the pain was great. While $50 billion was invested in modernization, doubling U.S. productivity — four steel workers now produce more than 10 did in the 1980s — the number of U.S. steelworkers sank from 500,000 to 170,000.

Steel towns like those in the Mahoning and Mon valleys died. But because Reagan acted, and union and management united, the U.S. industry came roaring back to re-capture, with the highest-quality and lowest-cost steel on Earth, over 80 percent of the U.S. market.

Then came the Asian crisis. To bail out Japanese banks whose loans were suddenly at risk, the IMF shoveled scores of billions of U.S. dollars into Asia and imposed austerity. Nations in austerity, however, cannot consume their own steel, let alone buy ours, and countries in debt to the IMF need dollars to pay off the IMF.

The IMF formula: Debtor countries should “export their way out” by dumping manufactures, at devaluation prices, in the huge U.S. market to raise the dollars to pay back the IMF. The IMF is today’s internationalist agent for the de-industrializing of America.

Asia did as ordered. By mid-1998, imports of steel from South Korea, which got a $57 billion bailout, were up 90 percent over ’97. Japan has used its devalued yen to more than double steel exports to the United States. Russia, beneficiary of IMF bailouts, has also doubled steel exports to America. Imported steel is expected to hit a record 37 million tons in 1998, 27 percent of the U.S. market and rising.

Steel is a $70 billion U.S. industry that employs 170,000 Americans and pays the pensions and health insurance of half a million retirees and family members. This industry must not be sacrificed again on the altar of some mythical “Global Economy” — by free-trade fanatics, the wreckage of whose ideas is visible all around us.

After attending to Brother Clinton, the second order of business of the 106th Congress should be — defend U.S. steel.

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