CAFTA backers count six Dems

Reps. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas) and Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) are leaning toward voting for the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), according to Democratic and Republicans lawmakers and aides who are scouring the House for the roughly 20 Democratic votes they believe they need for passage.

Ortiz and Reyes could make their support known as early as next week, bringing the number of firm Democratic votes to six. Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), William Jefferson (D-La.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) have already publicly committed to supporting the controversial trade deal.
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Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas): Leaning toward CAFTA, supporters say.


Supporters of the deal, which would encourage trade with five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic, believe that the potential backing from two Texas Hispanics will help galvanize support for a bill they believe will reduce poverty in the hemisphere.

Press secretaries for Ortiz and Reyes said the lawmakers are still undecided, but a Democratic lawmaker involved in building support said that an internal tally had Ortiz and Reyes in the “yes” column.

United States Trade Representative Rob Portman has also told lawmakers that he believes he has five Democratic supporters. But he did not mention any specific names when he addressed the House Republican Conference yesterday, instead laying out the policy and political arguments for passage, a GOP leadership aide said.

Portman explained to GOP members how the deal would benefit the nation and addressed some of their concerns, said his spokeswoman, Neena Moorjani.

“He offered to meet with them individually to further discuss the agreement,” Moorjani added.
Ortiz’s spokeswoman Cathy Travis said, “[Ortiz is] still undecided. People are reading into the tealeaves based on how he’s voted on trade issues in the past, but he still has some concerns.”

Reyes spokeswoman Kira Maas said, “The congressman has held numerous meetings on both sides of the issue and still has serious concerns about the agreement, especially since his district of El Paso, Texas, lost a significant number of jobs following the NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] agreement. He is generally a free-trade Democrat, but, given El Paso’s experience with NAFTA, he wants to make sure American jobs are protected.”

Moran, who is working closely with Portman in seeking Democratic votes for CAFTA, said that he believes up to 20 of his colleagues would support the deal if Republicans agree to tweak a few measures. “I know we could get a lot more if they would just make a few concessions,” he said.

The roughly 20 Democrats are needed for passage because a significant number of Republicans have indicated their firm opposition to CAFTA.

The effort to find Democratic support is narrowing on handful of lawmakers, including Reps. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) and John Tanner (D-Tenn.), all mentioned as the “first wave” of Democratic supporters.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that he is confident that a majority of Democrats will oppose the measure, but the Democratic leadership has not taken a position on the bill.

“Trade is not usually a party-line vote. However, on CAFTA, a strong majority of Democrats will be voting against CAFTA. You can just look at the New Democrat statement opposing it,” said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Some reliably pro-trade Democrats, such as New Democrat Coalition Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher (Calif.) and Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), a business ally on some issues who aspires a party leadership slot, have said they will oppose CAFTA.

CAFTA supporters recognize that they face an uphill battle and are not optimistic about bringing the measure to the floor of the House before the Memorial Day recess.

The sugar lobby has been the most vocal opponent of CAFTA at this stage in the debate, and labor unions have held numerous rallies against it. Most agricultural lobby groups support the free-trade agreement, despite the sugar industry’s vehement defiance.

New Democrats have thrown their support behind party leaders rather than heed the influence of big business, particularly snubbing the technology industry. Last week, the technology lobby vowed retaliation against those Democrats it had supported in the past