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Clinton must clarify stance on free trade

Not everyone in the progressive community is charmed to see former President Bill Clinton joining Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on the stump.

Among those disquieted is Alan Tonelson, particularly since our trade deficits with China seem to be setting new marks every month. Tonelson is a research fellow at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

The council, which works for small and medium-sized manufacturers, is among many groups that hoped the 2006 congressional elections would spur a common-sense approach to America's trade problems.

These groups see Bill Clinton not as the beguiling "comeback kid," but as the author of two destructive trade initiatives: NAFTA in 1994 and most-favored nation trade status for China in 2000.

One research organization, the labor-backed Economic Policy Institute, sees President Clinton's moves costing millions of Americans good-paying jobs in factories and on farms.

President Clinton in 2000 claimed "exports to China now support hundreds of thousands of jobs" and that "these figures can grow substantially with the new access to the Chinese market that the [World Trade Organization] creates."

Instead, the EPI says, the China trade bill pushed by Bill Clinton cost 106,000 jobs in New York State alone.

In 1993, Clinton's aides made similar promises about NAFTA while the president himself signaled he was not comfortable with NAFTA. Even so, he pushed it through a balky Democratic Congress.

The EPI estimates that pact with Canada and Mexico cost New York 52,000 jobs. A U.S. trade surplus with those two nations turned into a trade deficit of $107.3 million a year.

As first lady, Hillary Clinton had nothing to do with either trade move. Nor has she repudiated them. In a 1998 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, she praised corporations for mounting "a very effective business effort in the U.S. on behalf of NAFTA."

As a senator, she voted for free trade agreements with Oman, Singapore and Chile, but against the proposed FTA with Central America, which easily passed the Senate anyway. She also voted for normalized trade relations with Vietnam.

Her spokesman, Philippe Reines, said she opposed extending fast track authority for President Bush, and opposes the free trade agreement with South Korea.

Reines says Clinton favors "smart trade," meaning pacts containing environmental and labor protections. Critics of this theme say it's an unenforceable fig leaf for more globalist deals.

Tonelson is perplexed by comments Clinton made at one of her Wall Street fund-raisers, and a speech she made in Manchester, N.H., on economics.

She noted in an interview with Bloomberg after one Wall Street event that NAFTA was negotiated by President George H.W. Bush.

Sen. Clinton "is committed to free trade and to the growing role of the international economy," Steven Rattner, a Clinton fund-raiser, told Bloomberg.

In Manchester, candidate Clinton worried there wasn't much one could do about the trade deficit with Red China because the United States owes the regime so much money.

She did join Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., on his bill to tax Chinese goods because China manipulates its currency. Schumer withdrew the bill, however. Neither she nor Schumer signed on to a tougher bipartisan bill to penalize China.

Hers is a mixed record, which could use some clarification.

"Just as anti-war Democrats are demanding that Sen. Clinton admit that her Iraq War vote was a mistake," Tonelson said, "fair-trade Democrats should be demanding that she admit that her support for the outsourcing trade deals of the 1990s was a mistake."


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