The Bipartisan “nationalist” coalition which has been emerging in response to the cosmopolitan policies of the Clinton administration scored several notable victories in the week before Congress adjourned for 1997. The House defeated an attempt to extend NAFTA to the countries of the Caribbean and Central America. This measure was clearly linked to the corporate hunt for cheap Third World labor, since this region can’t promise large markets for American-made exports. Firms which had relocated their factories to Central America wanted a “level playing field” with those who relocated to Mexico under NAFTA. Opponents cited last year’s $16 billion trade deficit with Mexico to make the case against opening American markets to more imports. NAFTA needs to be corrected, not compounded.

A legislative package put together by Representative Chris Cox (R-CA) took aim at Clinton’s trade-based China policy. All nine bills passed with over 300 votes each. Most of the bills dealt with human rights or national security issues, but others limited trade with firms using slave labor or connected with the Chinese military. Another bill cut off concessionary loans to China by the American-funded World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Transnational business opposed all the bills. Beijing has convinced business that only by working for appeasement can its investments in China be protected.

The struggle between national and private interests peaked in the battle over Clinton’s request for a new grant of “fast track” trade negotiating authority. Under fast track. Congress would surrender its constitutional duty to regulate foreign commerce and be prohibited from amending presidential requests to change American law to conform with executive agreements. Just as executive agreements were conceived to circumvent the Senate’s role in treaty-making, fast track is designed to cripple Congress’s ability to guide trade policy.

In place of elected representatives, a host of private-sector advisory committees have been created. Former Clinton trade official Jeffrey Garten has admitted that “the executive branch depends almost entirely on business for technical information regarding trade negotiations.” The transnationals have imparted to the administration their “globalist” orientation, which fits well with Clinton’s Woodrow Wilson liberalism.

The House of Representatives is the natural place for a countermovement. The House is rooted in local communities, the building blocks of the territorial nation-state. While the media concentrated on the influence of labor unions and Dick Gephardt’s presidential ambitions versus Vice President Al Gore, the bid for fast track could not have been derailed by these forces alone. The Republican Party, the ultimate “party of big business,” holds a majority in the House, and its leaders remain solidly in support of Clinton’s trade policy.

To defeat fast track, a block of Republican members had to form around a more traditional conservative perspective. About one-third of GOP House members can now be counted among its ranks. No vote was taken on fast track. Despite an all-out effort by the White House, GOP leaders, and an army of business lobbyists, the bill was pulled for lack of support. On the earlier vote against extending NAFTA, 83 Republicans had joined 151 Democrats to form a majority.

A poll conducted for the Wall Street journal found that 76 percent of rank-and-file Republicans and 70 percent of independents opposed fast track. Unfortunately, the Republican half of the nationalist coalition in Congress has not yet gelled sufficiently to produce consistent majorities in the face of a party leadership still heavily influenced by liberal philosophy and transnational interest groups.

The data clearly show that the mounting trade deficits under Clinton have harmed the American economy, slowing growth and holding down incomes. With the crash in Asian markets making hash of the assumptions underlying the President’s policies, the opportunity brightens for the nationalist coalition to solidity and make Clinton the lame duck he deserves to be. The open question is whether a presidential candidate will emerge by 2000 to carry the nationalist perspective to the White House, or whether the U.S. House will have to go it alone.