Special-Interest Lobbies - Economic lobbies in the mid-twentieth century

Trade and Tariff Lobbies During the first century and a half of American history, trade was one of the few consistent issues in an essentially isolationist foreign policy. Most of the lobbying of Congress resulted from the clash between protectionists and supporters of moderate tariffs. However, the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act adopted by Congress in 1934 signaled the end of Congress's attempts, in response to the pressure of economic lobbying groups, to determine the tariff on individual commodities. The act gave the president the authority to negotiate reciprocal agreements and set tariffs. It ended the period in which tariff making was essentially a domestic affair and changed it into a foreign policy matter in which Congress was only periodically involved when major enabling legislation came before it.

In the decades after World War II, the lobbies in Washington for industry, business, and farm groups focused on specific national, regional, or economic sector protectionist measures in response to the rising sentiment in support for or acquiescence to international trade liberalization. The United States took the lead in 1946 in convening a conference on multilateral trade negotiations that resulted in the 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), dedicated to reducing tariffs and import quotas and achieving free trade. The GATT laid out a code of trade practices and schedules of tariff reductions for many of the commodities in international trade. By 1975 tariffs had been reduced worldwide from an average of about 40 percent to an average of 10 percent, and international trade had tripled. The periodic negotiations among nations under GATT during the rest of the century attracted protectionist lobbies, and industries and farmers were likely to lobby Congress and the executive branch regarding the "escape clause" exceptions to tariff levels that were managed by the executive branch and periodically reauthorized by Congress.

The United States also entered into multilateral trade agreements in the immediate postwar period for such major commodities as wheat and sugar. International arrangements for other commodities such as tea, wool, cotton, tin, and rubber arose, but resistance to joining such cartels was strong in the United States. Lobbyists for farmers and other agricultural interests worked tirelessly to influence executive branch agencies involved in the negotiations, and Congress had its own continuing role to play. The lobbying on specific commodities also came from foreign governments. Caribbean governments mounted lobbying campaigns aimed at Congress regarding the allocation of the annual quota of imported sugar. Success could mean the difference between prosperity and depression in those island nations.

The growth of foreign economic competition with American industries and farms over the decades caused lobbies for particular interest groups—oil producers, southern textile companies, and automobile makers, for example—to lobby insistently for tariff protection. The rising trend of trade liberalization of the postwar period reached a peak in the 1960s with the so-called Kennedy Round of the GATT negotiations (1962–1967) and the Trade Expansion Act adopted by Congress in October 1962. The 1962 legislation was strongly supported by the liberal trade lobby. It was led by the Committee for a National Trade Policy, representing large corporations with export interests, but which also included the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. On the losing side in 1962 were such protectionist interest groups as the American Trade Council, representing big businesses, trade associations, and farm groups, and the Liberty Lobby, an ultraconservative group that opposed trade legislation as an unconstitutional delegation of tariff-making power to the president.

Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the authority to negotiate trade agreements had been in the State Department, but many farm and industry groups came to believe that State was unsympathetic with and unresponsive to domestic interests. The establishment under the terms of the Trade Act of 1962 of an independent Office of the Special Trade Representative located in the Executive Office of the president was largely attributable to the efforts of the lobbyists for those groups. The appointment of the trade representative was made by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Military-Industrial Complex Another economic lobby resulted from the maintenance by the United States, from World War II onward, of a powerful and modern armed force based on the defense industries. This created a unique and troubling set of relationships between those industries and the government, particularly the Department of Defense (DOD). Also, the vast amount of U.S. military assistance to foreign countries became a major factor in American foreign affairs as well as in the domestic economy. The defense industries became the most consistently powerful of all interest groups. They developed and maintained vital relationships with the Defense Department, which let contracts for the acquisition of arms, equipment, and services, as well as with members of Congress, particularly those whose districts were home to the corporations producing the arms. In his farewell address in 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the "grave implications" of the growing influence of the "military-industrial complex" in every city, statehouse, and federal agency. Eisenhower said that he had sought, without consistent success, to curtail military spending and the economic and political power of the complex.

One consequence of the recognition of the danger of the Congress-DOD-industry triumvirate was the rise in power, beginning with the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, of the national security adviser at the White House. This official could, better than the often unsatisfactory interagency resolutions within and outside the National Security Council system in the Eisenhower era, coordinate national security policy and insulate foreign policy decision making from the military-industrial interest groups.

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