Congress has passed a bill to protect jobs in the textile, apparel and footwear industries at a cost of $70,000 per job per year. When translated into increased prices for clothing and footwear for a family of four, that's $100 a year.
U.S. Special Trade Representative Carla Hills says beyond this cost could be the $125 billion of exports foregone when, as is probable if the measure is enacted, the current round of international trade talks collapses. That, she estimates, would increase the annual expense to as high as $2,600 per family. If, on top of all that, the bill sets off a trade war, the cost might be incalculable.
Why, then, would anyone support such a bill? The answer, primarily, is many politicians do not think past the next election.
Saving textile jobs sounds like a fine idea - as it might be, if only the cost were commensurate with the jobs saved. Unhappily, the aggrieved industries hire lobbyists to argue their case on Capitol Hill, but there are no lobbyists for the low-income families injured when clothing prices rise, or for workers who would lose jobs in a trade war.
Moreover, legislators know that President Bush is almost certain to veto this measure.
That would create a sequence of events that would enable them to reap local political benefit by voting for it without risking the long-term economic harm to their constituents that would be inflicted if the bill were actually to be enacted.
At a time when Congress can hardly restrain its anger over other countries' trade barriers, such hypocrisy is an embarrassment.
Worse, it undermines U.S. efforts, through the trade talks being conducted under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, to reduce barriers in agricultural, services and investment markets, where America excels.