Trading Blows: Party Competition and U.S. Trade Policy in a Globalizing Era
By James Shoch
University of North Carolina Press, 2001, 388 pp.
Congress and the president have long been struggling to find a new consensus on the U.S. approach toward global trade. Stokes and Choate argue that the current broken consensus can be rebuilt if the United States would arrive at agreements in a more democratic way. Congress would have its own office to analyze trade issues, sending observers as mandatory members of the U.S. negotiating team. Information about ongoing negotiations would be opened up to outsiders. These ideas may be good, especially to those critics who prefer perfect trade agreements that are perfectly unattainable. But the authors do not present any evidence that "democratizing" the trade negotiating process would actually rebuild consensus about what should be done. They do throw a bone to free traders by suggesting easier voting procedures on trade agreements in the U.S. Senate. The free traders, however, may have noticed that they tend to encounter bigger vote-counting problems in the House of Representatives.
For evidence on just why Congress has become so fractious on trade issues, readers can turn to Shoch. He argues that trade policies have become significantly more polarized along party lines in the last 20 years. Here the national political parties really do matter. But how the party rivalries actually play out in particular cases is complex, as Shoch illustrates with a detailed analysis that emphasizes the White House's role and the cohesion and attitudes of congressional party caucuses. Rivalry is intense but disordered. In the absence of energetic presidential leadership, therefore, the likely winners will be those who display the greatest skill at political maneuver in the three-dimensional chess of interest groups, congressional politics, and international diplomacy.