Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fissure in the Democratic Party after Wool Tariff Vote

Yesterday, the Democratic Party Caucus in the House of Representatives voted to reduce the tariff on import of raw wool and clothing.  The bill had been proposed by Representative Oscar Underwood (D-Ala.), Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.  The duty on raw wool will be reduced from its 44.31%, from the Payne-Aldrich tariff, to 20%, equivalent to 3-5 cents per pound.  The tariff on manufactured products made from wool, like yarn, clothing, blankets, and ribbons, have also been reduced.  For example, the duty on women's and children's dress goods have dropped from 102.85% to 45%.  Chairman Underwood expected the tariff to reduce federal revenue from wool products by $1,400,000 to $40,556,200.  The wool schedule was also put on an ad valorem basis.

The caucus was quite heated as William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic Presidential candidate in three of the last four elections and self-proclaimed leader of the Democratic Party, advocated strongly for no duties on raw wool.  Previous tariff schedules under Democratic congresses had no raw wool duties.  In an editorial in his weekly newspaper, The Commoner, on Tuesday, Bryan criticized Democratic leaders in Congress as protectionists, same as the Republicans:
The Democratic voters have a right to insist that the protectionist Democrats shall be as honest as the protectionist Republicans. The Republicans want protection on wool because they believe in the principle of protection; but let not Democratic advocate of a tax on wool masquerade behind the pretense that he is voting for a revenue tariff. Let him not add hypocrisy to the sin which he commits against his party.

There is no reason a few sheep raisers should be shown favoritism at the expense of all who wear woolen clothing.

If the Democratic party is to be Aldrichised, let the change of policy be made with audacity at least. The man who does wrong boldly may mislead a few, but the man who does wrong by stealth and then tries to conceal it by equivocation confesses his consciousness of guilt and cannot hope for a following.

It may be well to remember that the voters of all parties are braver than politicians.

The Democratic voters know that all needed revenue can be raised in less oppressive ways, and they know that the argument that the tariff on wool is proposed as a revenue tariff is merely subterfuge employed because those who employ it are ashamed to say that they favor protection.
Bryan's harsh comments toward House Democrats had a deep effect on the Caucus but not the one he intended.  Underwood stated that free wool would deplete the Treasury's coffers too extremely, and that the country could ill afford it after 15 years of "Republican extravagance."  He further stated that free wool would be disastrous for the country economically and the party politically.  In the end, the party caucus voted to support the new wool schedule unanimously, preferring Underwood's tariff to Bryan's leadership of the party.  The tariff is likely to sail through the House now.  House Speaker Champ Clark, while not openly advocating the schedule, has given his commitment to see its passage.

Yesterday's vote could have an impact on the race for next year's Democratic presidential nomination.  Bryan is still well regarded in the West and Plains states, and his endorsement could carry sway with those delegates if he doesn't run himself.  However, with last year's endorsement of the Republican candidate in the Nebraska gubernatorial race due to the prohibition issue, he is not likely to see the same support he has had in previous conventions, if yesterday's comments by Rep. Underwood are any indication. With this caucus vote, Speaker Clark is likely to be hurt in his run for the White House.  Before the vote, Bryan, in a veiled threat, said that Clark's chances at the nomination "would depend on the caucus in Washington."  Bryan in the same statement also gave a boost to presidential hopeful, Woodrow Wilson, saying, "Gov. Wilson is doing good work in New Jersey."

While the new tariff has reduced the duties on wool, it looks like the vote could have major repercussions going into 1912.  The race on the other side is definitely heating up!  A split in the Democratic Party can only boost President Taft's chances at being re-elected next year.

Link: Wool Schedule Revision Bolts Bryan's Desires [The Washington Herald]
Link: Democrats Clash Over Free Wool [The Washington Herald]

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