This is a story of political treachery with long consequences for our country. They are becoming known as the GATT Ten — the ten Senators who broke their written declaration earlier this year that they would not vote to bust the budget, thereby increasing the deficit, in order to clear the way for the final vote on the GATT/World Trade Organization which passed on December 1, 1994.
Had they remained faithful to their written promise, these ten lawmakers would have raised the total number of Senators opposed to what is called the “budget waiver” to 42. Since the pro-GATT Senators needed 60 votes to get out of this federal deficit control law through the waiver, the GATT would never have come to a vote and the Senate would have gone home.
The budget busting issue arose because the GATT reduces tariff revenues to the U.S. Treasury. Clinton could not raise taxes to make up the difference (about $30 billion), nor could he reduce programs; so he chose to waive the law.
Big business lobbyists were swarming over the Senate and making personal calls to Senators, while representatives of consumer, labor, environmental and family farm groups were relegated to lower level staff. Clinton was on the phone incessantly and his cabinet secretaries were limoing to Capitol Hill to huddle with the GATT Ten one by one.
The stakes were big for big business. Never before had they moved the U.S. under the authority of a World Trade Organization (WTO), with 124 nation-members and secret tribunals, that could pass on any of our laws — health, safety, workplace, etc. If they are deemed to hamper foreign trade, we would either have to repeal these laws or pay taxpayer-funded fines to foreign nations or incur trade retaliation against our workers.
The WTO gives us just one vote and no veto. Any two dictatorships, small or large, could outvote us.
Countries, dictatorships or not, that treated their workers and consumers too harshly do not violate the WTO’s rules. Only nations, whose food safety, motor vehicle, pollution control standards are higher, are exposed to being brought before these tribunals by other countries whose exports don’t pass the defendant nation’s more humane standards.
On July 15, 1994, nineteen Senators wrote President Clinton asking that he join them “in opposing any effort to waive provisions of the Budget Enforcement Act for the GATT implementing legislation. . . Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA), David Durenberger (R-MN), Trent Lott (R-MS), Robert Bennett (R-UT), John Warner (R-VA), Alfonse D’Amato (R-NY), Herbert Kohl (D-WI) and Carol Moseley-Braun (D-IL) signed this letter and on Dec. 1st broke their word and voted for the waiver.
Two other Senators made explicit pledges to United We Stand before election day. They were Senator Harrison Wofford (D-PA) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). Both went on to the Senate floor and broke their commitment.
This is a very serious breach of political honor. One Senator told me that he hasn’t seen this volume of betrayal in all his many years here. These Senators not only allowed the onset of foreign regulation of America, of global autocracy eroding our domestic democracy; but they contributed to the distrust that Americans have toward their politicians.
This is damage that savages the public’s trust — a priceless bonding in our electoral democracy. Can future politicians, who honestly pledge, be as trusted given this sleazy performance as a public memory?
Defeated Senator James Sasser, who was Chairman of the Budget Committee, also had told several Senators in the spring and summer that he was definitely against the budget busting. He then turned around and voted the opposite way, telling one friend “this vote is for me.” He is looking for a job.
The rot, as more and more is the case, is bi-partisan. The solution is a massive new political party to apply Thomas Jefferson’s recommendation over two centuries ago to clean house when the consent of the governed is repeatedly repudiated.
All three national polls showed large majorities against the GATT, against the lame duck Congress voting on the GATT and against busting the budget for this purpose.
The vast majority of the mass membership organizations in labor, consumer, farm, environment, civil rights and other constituencies were against the secret, autocratic World Trade Organization.
Telephone calls were coming into Senators’ offices fifteen to twenty to one against the GATT/WTO. In the end, it did not matter. The Clinton–Fortune Five Hundred corporations brought America to its knees. But this is a struggle to be continued.