Democrats See Trade as Potent Election Issue
IF you thought George Bush was about to give away your job to Mexico, would you get involved in the 1992 election? Some Democrats hope the answer is, ``Yes, in a big way.''Skip to next paragraph
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President Bush supports a controversial treaty that would throw open America's doors to imports from Mexico, where factory workers earn less than $1 an hour. Such a treaty would be a ``potent force for ... prosperity,'' argues US Trade Representative Carla Hills.
But the deepening recession and the rapid loss of American jobs offer Democrats a tempting political target. As euphoria about the Persian Gulf war fades, Democrats believe economic issues, like the Mexican treaty, will again become paramount - and will give them the perfect weapon to slam the president.
In the United States, the Mexican treaty could push down prices for everything from autos to clothing to tuna fish. But it could also cause layoffs of auto workers in Detroit, textile workers in South Carolina, and tuna packers in California.
Democratic leaders, watching unemployment climb toward 7 percent, say the groundwork is being laid for what could be the biggest election upset of a popular president in modern times.
The recession is slashing corporate profits, throwing many small firms into bankruptcy, and putting thousands of working-class Americans onto welfare. Big Three auto output is sliding toward a 33-year low.
Long-term economic problems may be even worse. The government's debt has soared to $3.38 trillion. The trade deficit remains high. Japanese investors are buying everything from New York skyscrapers to Hollywood movie studios.
Working Americans are getting the worst of it, and Democrats say the middle class will be the key to the 1992 election.
``More and more of those people who make between $25,000 and $75,000 are finding their jobs gone, and they cannot replace them in this country,'' says former Democratic chairman Robert Strauss. ``They are paying tremendous taxes. They are getting squeezed.''
House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt also talks about jobs - particularly about the threat of Mexican free trade to US workers. Mr. Gephardt is demanding that the White House give assurances ``that American jobs will not be lost in droves'' if there is a treaty.
The congressman, who based his 1988 presidential campaign on the trade issue, notes that ``a bad deal is far worse than no deal at all.'' He suggests Bush's proposed treaty with Mexico may be ``the worst deal since the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth.''
Ambassador Hills disputes that. She explains that some US jobs already have moved south because of Mexico's low wages; but American workers, such as those at Deltec, a San Diego electronics maker, were ``retrained to fill higher-skill and higher-paying jobs,'' she says.
Robert Zoellick, a State Department counselor, says, ``The arguments about job loss just don't stand up to scrutiny.'' He cites a study prepared for the Labor Department that shows the pact could add 64,000 US jobs over 10 years.