Friday, July 29, 2005

Osborne Fears White House Retaliation

by Kyle Michaelis
Ahh, Republican leadership in action. It seems yesterday's 217-215 vote in the House of Representative to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was not won on the merits of the bill but on Republican Represenatives' fears of reprisal from their own party if they didn't vote as told. At least, that seems to be very much the case for Nebraska Congressman and 2006 gubernatorial candidate Tom Osborne.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne, after siding with a two-vote House majority to approve a controversial trade agreement with Central American countries, said Thursday he feared the sugar industry would suffer reprisals if the pact failed.

Osborne, whose district includes western Nebraska sugar beet growers, said he had heard suggestions from Bush administration officials that the industry's lack of flexibility on trade could hurt it when federal farm programs are rewritten next year.

"One thing about the administration, whether you disagree with them or agree with them, they tend to keep their word. So I didn't take it as idle threats," Osborne said.

He declined to say who had made the threats or what they were. But Osborne said he spoke with President Bush, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and high-ranking trade officials.

Meanwhile, Osborne told the Grand Island Independent:
"There were, I think, some very real threats that sugar would pay a price in the next farm bill if CAFTA was pulled down."

Well, that's comforting - our government is being run like the Mafia. While there's always going to be an element of this sort of retribution politics in government, one has to wonder how bad things must actually be to have forced Osborne to talk about these mob-style tactics publicly.

Of course, there's no evidence that any of these pressures or fears were required to win the votes of Reps. Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry. Their votes and eternal allegiance were bought with Tom DeLay's PAC-money long ago. The independent-spirited if not independent-minded Osborne had been something of a rarity these days - a Republican hold-out. His vote going the other way with that of just one other Representative's would have stopped Bush's CAFTA gamble in its tracks.

But, fear won out. Osborne ended up reasoning that the damage this bill might do to the industry in his district wouldn't be near as bad as that a vindictive Bush Administration would have done if the vote had gone the other way. Not much bold leadership in a vote like that, but you've got to give Osborne a point for his pragmatism. Only one point, though - because this is no longer the man who went for two against Miami. Age and Republican politics have beat that sort of fight right out of him.

How sad. The Timid Trio rides again.


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