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New Political Tags: Global vs. National

US debate over Asian bailout highlights split between free traders and their critics.

Washington's traditional opposing teams wear uniforms that say "Democrats" or "Republicans." But in recent months it has become increasingly clear that there may be another important ideological divide emerging in US political life: "Globalists" vs. "Nationalists."

Veteran Globalists (President Clinton, GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich) generally favor free trade and global economic integration, and have dominated US foreign policy for years. The up-and-coming Nationalists (Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt, Ross Perot) don't believe free trade is always good and often criticize economic forces that cross national bounds.

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This fall's congressional defeat of "fast track" trade-negotiating authority for the president was a big win for the Nationalist persuasion. Now the two sides are lining up again - this time to battle over US involvement in bail-outs for troubled Asian economies.

At stake may be nothing less than the future US role in the world. Nationalists, particularly on Capitol Hill, are demonstrating increasing impatience with what they view as the impersonal, knee-jerk Globalist policies of the recent American past.

"When adults sit down to serious business, other concerns get brushed off. All that counts is the mobility of capital," said Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts at a hearing on Asian problems this fall. "Well, let me tell you, that's about to end."

The rise of the Globalist--Nationalist debate is a story of the splintering of US ideological differences in the new freedom of the post-cold war world.

Suspicion of engagement with the outside world is a long-standing tradition in the country's politics, of course. Prior to World War I it was often a dominant trend.

But the 20th century has seen heavy US involvement with the rest of the globe. And because of the decades of tension with the Soviet Union, presidents routinely pushed internationalist polices, such as US backing for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as measures needed to ensure free-world cohesion.

Changes on Capitol Hill

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"Congress tended to be more deferential to presidential leadership on all kinds of international decisions, including foreign economic policy," says Pietro Nivola, a senior fellow in government studies at the Brookings Institution here.

The end of the cold war, in essence, made questioning US internationalism seem a less dangerous activity. And it has brought a whole new array of foreign policy issues to the fore, such as job migration across borders.

Meanwhile, in Congress the two official political parties have undergone significant cultural change in regards to internationalism.

For one thing, the older leaders whose view of the world was shaped by the great group effort of World War II have almost all retired.

Capitol Hill Republicans have become less and less the party of Wall Street and more and more a party of Main Street. The new breed of Southern and Western Republicans, in particular, is more interested in tax cuts and what they see as government interference in the lives of citizens than they are in the United Nations and the fate of world currencies.

Democrats question White House

Congressional Democrats, since losing their majority, have become increasingly dependent on organized labor for campaign funds and other political support. That means the party has become increasingly suspicious of free trade, despite the position of its leader in the White House.

The result? A Congress where Democrats, with help from a minority of Republicans, defeat the usually-automatic extension of "fast track" authority; a House resolution to pull the US out of the United Nations wins 54 votes, including that of Republican whip Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas; and conservatives are increasingly restive about what they term "sovereignty" issues, such as the power of the World Trade Organization.

"This Congress is less internationalist than any I have ever had experience with," says Greg Mastel, vice president for policy planning at the Economic Study Institute.

Now the Nationalists are getting ready to flex their votes over the issue of US backing for the IMF.

That's because Congress, when it returns to work in January, will vote on whether to help replace $32 billion the IMF has paid out in rescue packages for Asian economies. Last month, in a dispute that actually centered on family-planning funds, Congress deleted IMF money from the foreign-aid appropriations bill.

The IMF is, in essence, the world's version of The Money Store that's advertised on late-night cable TV. It's a lender of last resort, a place countries go to for cash when they can't get it anywhere else. But along with the money, borrowers such as South Korea get stiff doses of advice on how to run their economy - and if they ignore the advice, the money can quickly dry up.

IMF support at issue

The US and other rich countries provide the IMF with its capital. A generation of presidents have considered it a worthwhile joint effort to stabilize the world economy.

For his part, Mr. Clinton is already starting a push to win continued IMF funding. In a Commerce Department speech last week, he said that "a huge percentage of our exports go to Asia" and that "we are all interconnected, whether we like it or not."

But GOP leaders say the vote is far from a foregone conclusion. "It's going to be difficult to get 50 percent," said House Banking Committee chairman Rep. Jim Leach (R) of Iowa last week.

The Globalist and Nationalist teams aren't fielding exactly the same lineups in this dispute as they did in the fast-track fight. Rep. Dick Gephardt (D) of Missouri, a key fast-track opponent, says he supports IMF funds, for instance.

But the Nationalist side is clearly a significant force, with a number of both Democrats and Republicans opposed either to using US money to bail out other nations, or to the nature of the economic advice the IMF dispenses.

"The IMF has outlived its usefulness," argues Brett Schaefer, a scholar at the Heritage Institute. "For a long time it has been basically a foreign aid institution."

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