WHEN THE House voted for the textile protection bill on Tuesday, it was voting to make consumers pay higher prices for textiles and clothing. It was voting for the worst kind of special-interest legislation -- the kind that increases the profits of one favored industry at the expense of everybody else. It was also a vote to violate the trade agreements that the United States has signed with 38 other countries, most of them good friends.
Of the eight people who represent the Washington area in the House of Representatives, there were two principled Republicans who voted against the textile bill -- as you would guess, Frank R. Wolf of Virginia and Connie. Morella of Maryland. The area's other congressmen all supported it.
Why would a generally well-intentioned legislator like Steny Hoyer vote against the interests of his constituents in Prince George's County to raise prices for the benefit of the textile manufacturers? It's an election year, and voters might want to ask him about that. The answer is, apparently, that he was just going along with the rest of the House Democratic leadership, in which he ranks fourth.
In the Maryland suburbs Beverly Byron, Roy Dyson and Tom McMillen all voted for the bill -- which, like a regressive tax, will hit the poor hardest. In northern Virginia Stan Parris, who is usually to be found on the least enlightened side of any issue, did nothing to improve his record here. He was joined by D. French Slaughter -- both of them Republicans voting against President Bush.
If you ask why, you will probably hear a lot of claims of dying mill towns, people thrown out of jobs and an industry overwhelmed by an avalanche of imports. The reality is that textiles and clothing are already among the most heavily protected of American industries and are profitable -- although they would naturally like to be more so. Regarding the lost jobs, you might ask whether automation didn't have something to do with it. Unlike the old mills a modern textile plant is not labor-intensive -- and dozens of new plants have been opened in the past several years. Most of the industry is now highly competitive, and the evidence is its rapidly rising exports -- yes, its exports.
In July, incidentally, both Maryland senators and both Virginians voted for this bill. Unfortunately only one of them, John Warner (R-Va.), is running for reelection this year. He's a man with a strong interest in national security, and you might ask him whether he still thinks it's a good idea to enact a bill that would violate American trade agreements with Egypt and Turkey, two of the key countries standing with the United States against Iraq.
This irresponsible bill now goes to President Bush, who has promised to veto it. He will be right to do so.