AUSTIN, TEXAS — SKEPTICS of United We Stand America (UWSA) have wondered how the advocacy group founded by Ross Perot can survive without a focus, having lost the battle last fall against passage of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Well, UWSA is about to get a new, high-profile target: the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. GATT, the most comprehensive trade treaty in history, took more than seven years to negotiate and now awaits ratification by Congress.
UWSA is currently polling its state organizations and will announce its position on GATT in a few weeks, says V.B. Corn, UWSA executive director in Dallas, the group's headquarters.
Mr. Corn says affordability is one issue likely to rally UWSA members against portions of the treaty. It is estimated that GATT will take more than $40 billion in tariff income from the United States over a 10-year period, and Congress may have to offset the loss through budget cuts or new revenue.
Another issue raised by Corn is sovereignty. The US has veto power in the United Nations. But in the World Trade Organization, which would monitor GATT compliance, the US has no special power.
In North Carolina, UWSA members are concerned that GATT will harm the state's textile industry, says Dorothy Drew, the secretary of North Carolina's UWSA chapter. Citing the same concerns UWSA raised over NAFTA, Mrs. Drew says that labor wages in the US would be pushed to the global lowest common denominator. ``Our workers will be competing with those in China and Thailand,'' Drew says.
Corn says the apparent inactivity of UWSA this year stems from the lower profile of Mr. Perot, the Dallas billionaire who earned 19 percent of the vote as an independent presidential candidate in 1992.
Within months of President Clinton's election, Perot created UWSA to harness the grass-roots yearning for better government that was given voice by his candidacy. Perot attended 101 rallies in every state except Hawaii to build membership, the size of which is kept secret. Perot has lowered his visibility since he and Vice President Al Gore Jr. held their televised debate over NAFTA last fall.
Corn regards UWSA's role in kindling a debate over NAFTA as a success. ``Whoever heard of a trade agreement getting that kind of infamy?'' he asks.
Corn says that UWSA, along with fighting NAFTA, helped pass a law last September that makes public which congressmen sign a discharge petition to bring a bill that is stuck in committee to the floor for debate.
UWSA also claims some of the credit for last month's victory by Republican Ron Lewis over Democrat Joe Prather in the special election for a Kentucky congressional seat. When Mr. Prather refused to answer UWSA questionnaires or join in UWSA-sponsored candidate forums, the organization paid for an newspaper ad the day before the election stating that Prather was ``inaccessible.''
``It wasn't an endorsement [for Mr. Lewis]. But it apparently got the job done,'' UWSA state director John Longmire says. As a tax-exempt entity, UWSA is prohibited from endorsing candidates. The Christian Coalition, the National Rifle Association, and the national Republican Party also worked to defeat Prather.
Corn cites other, less-visible successes at the state and local levels: UWSA in Washington State worked with county commissioners to pass a budget; UWSA in Wisconsin helped to shape welfare reform.
``The story is the local successes,'' Corn says.