Lori Wallach, Global Trade Watch Director for Public Citizen, the lobby founded by Ralph Nader, appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal to talk about the deal brewing between the Obama administration and the Republican Congress to confer upon the president so-called "fast track" authority in order to facilitate the approval of the pending free-trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Wallach was introduced by substitute Sunday host Pedro Echevarria, who asked what she thinks about Congress proposing to give the administration "a faster way to approve trade deals."
Wallach responded, "I don't know that it's faster, but it certainly gives the president a lot of exclusive authority." She noted that this procedure was first created by President Nixon and enacted after he was out of office. She observed that this process "basically chucked out 200 years of how Congress and the Executive Branch made trade agreements." (The tie to Nixon suggests that fast track authority is a vestige of the so-called "Imperial Presidency" or a hallmark of what historians may one day refer to as "the new Imperial Presidency.")
According to Wallach, "One of the strongest checks and balances of the Constitution is over trade." She reminded the audience that the Boston Tea Party was "a trade war over tea tariffs, and the Founders said, 'Never again are we going to have someone like King George unilaterally making trade policy,' so the constitution gave trade authority exclusively to Congress." Thus, there had to be power sharing between Congress and the Executive, rather than allowing the Executive to negotiate trade deals on its own.
In detail, the way fast track works is that it is authorized for a number of years — three, five, eight, for example — and it gives the president the authority to pick the countries with which to negotiate and negotiate the agreements before Congress has any say at all. Then the Executive has the power to draft the implementing legislation for any agreements, subject only to an up or down vote in Congress, within 90 days, with limited debate. Wallach called this procedure "a legislative luge run." In practice this process has prevailed for only five of the last 21 years.
At this point Wallach mentioned the World Trade Organization (WTO) and North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) legislation as products of fast track, and she asserted that they "have cost millions of American jobs." This writer would point out in fairness that most negotiating partners have a parliamentary system of government that does not separate the Executive from the legislature, and those partners object to the U.S. getting a negotiating bit from the Executive and then another from the legislature. Proponents argue that the resulting agreements boost exports.
Objectively, the agreements tend to create winners and losers, and they also have great potential to cause splits within the party caucuses. It also creates the irony that some Republicans will promote fast track authority while others will blast the administration for abuse of its authority in other areas, just as some Republicans supported fast track authority that was denied for President Clinton in 1998.
Wallach complained that the TPP will contain legislation that could never get through Congress on its own, and that the prospect of rewriting non-trade law "makes Congress crazy."
(Archived video can be found here
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