House Fast Track Politics a Lot Less Puzzling When You Look at Imports as Well as Exports

Alan Tonelson |

The Wall Street Journal earlier this week expressed puzzlement that so many House Democrats representing districts with strong export growth are so dead-set against President Obama’s trade agenda – or remaining determinedly on the fence. Actually, much of this apparent mystery becomes clearer when you do some research the Journal left out – how imports have affected these districts’ employment.

In fact, examining import flows and the trade balances they produce creates a mystery that could be even bigger: why so many representatives from districts that have been hammered by net trade – the trade measure that really counts – favor Mr. Obama’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and request for fast track negotiating authority.

In the Journal’s defense, import and trade balance figures by Congressional district don’t seem to be available. But a good proxy is easy to find – such figures for America’s trade with China. And it comes from a source that shouldn’t exactly be unknown to journalists – the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

I combined the Journal’s export figures with the broader China figures for the 2001-2013 period calculated by EPI’s Robert Scott. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Of the 20 Congressional districts cited by the Journal as the country’s merchandise export-growth leaders between 2006 and 2013, fully eight were also among those whose employment took the 20 biggest proportional net hits from America’s immense and continually growing goods trade deficit with China.
  • Lawmakers from two of those districts – Democrat Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon and Republican Sam Johnson of Texas are confirmed fast track supporters as of now.
  • Lawmakers from five other of those districts – California Democrats Mike Honda and Scott Peters, Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, and Texan Republicans Ted Poe and Michael McCaul – are currently undecided.
  • Honda’s 17th California district, which includes much of Silicon Valley, saw the country’s second highest rate of 2006-13 export growth. But it also suffered the highest percentage job loss due to its overall China trade performance.
  • Oregon’s first Oregon district, represented by Bonamici, enjoyed the second highest rate of export growth from 2006 to 2013. But it trailed only Honda’s district as a China jobs loser.
  • California Democrat Anna Eshoo is the only House Member from both a major export-growing district and a major China trade-loser district who is on record as opposing the fast track request.
  • Of the twelve other House Members from the districts that have fared the worst in China trade, only three appear to support the fast track request, and all are Republicans: Mimi Walters of California, Bill Flores of Texas, and Pete Roskam of Illinois. None come from districts among the top 20 export growers, although Flores’ ranks 31st and Walters’ ranks 33d.
  • Of the six apparently solid “No” votes in this “China losers” group (all Democrats), none are from districts in the top 20 export winners, and none show up in the top 50.
  • Of the three undecideds among the “China losers,” one is a Democrat – Zoe Lofgren. Her California 19th district is not among the 50 fastest export-growers. The two Republican undecideds’ districts – John Carter’s Texas 31st and Tom Graves’ Georgia 14th – didn’t make this list, either.
  • As for the top ten undecided votes in the House – at least according to The Hill newspaper – only one comes from a district that’s a standout exporter (the 9th of Washington, represented by Democrat Adam Smith, which has turned in the country’s fourth best performance). And Texas Republican Kay Granger’s 12th district is the only member whose home base makes the top 50 (32d).
  • The Hill’s other top House undecideds come from districts making neither list. They are Alabama Democrat Terri Sewell, Alabama Republican Robert Aderholt, Texas Democrats Beto O’Rourke and Joaquin Castro, Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic Whip, Republicans Candice Miller of Michigan and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, and Minnesota’s Collin Peterson, top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee.
  • At the same time, it should be remembered that, according to the EPI China trade study, all but one House district gained jobs through trade with the PRC from 2001 to 2013 – California’s.21st, represented by Republican David Valadao. Not surprisingly, he’s considered certain to vote for fast track.

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