WASHINGTON -- Obstructionism sometimes makes for odd companions, and that was certainly the case when Congress set aside pleas from the Clinton Administration and failed to approve the world trade agreement.
In the Senate, approval was blocked by a Democrat, Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, who was overcome by affection for the textile manufacturers in his state. In the House, chief GOP firebrand Newt Gingrich of Georgia tossed the trade bill onto the pile of Democratic initiatives that Republicans were gleefully incinerating.
In both chambers, there was a stampede by members to escape the frustration of political gridlock and begin campaigning.
A lame duck session is set for late November so Congress can return to the trade bill, and Democratic leaders have offered assurances that it will be passed.
Opponents will be making a mistake if they focus on parochial concerns and end up blocking something that by most accounts will provide broad benefits to the United States and the global economy.
The world trade bill would ratify painstaking multilateral negotiations over many years under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It would lower tariffs on a wide range of goods and enable U.S. exporters to expand their markets throughout the world. With the European and Japanese economies on the move again, the timing could not be better.
Treasury officials estimate that over 10 years a GATT agreement would slash global tariffs by $744 billion -- a massive tax cut that would put money directly into people's pockets. U.S. production would be raised by an estimated $1,200 per worker, and somewhere between 300,000 and 700,000 jobs would be created.
The bottom line is that increased trade adds directly to income, employment, and growth. Moreover, no one doubts that U.S. companies are now poised to make big inroads in foreign markets. The dollar is cheap compared with other currencies, and the quality of U.S. products is again worldclass after two decades of global competition and technological innovation.
If Budweiser can sell beer in London and IBM can sell computers in Japan, U.S. companies can sell anything anywhere. The "Made in U.S.A." label is back in vogue again around the world.
Opponents of the GATT trade bill are fighting against the tide of history, but their actions are not riskless.
In Russia, democracy is imperiled in an economy threatened by private gangs and runaway inflation. In Spain, unemployment is running more than 20%, about what it was in the United States during the Depression. Elsewhere in Europe, the extreme right is on the rise, feeding on joblessness and immigration worries.
Opponents of the trade bill are forgetting the urgency of bringing nations together in a world that is still threatened by forces that can tear it apart.