By Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch
Fast Track was a U.S. procedure established in the 1970s for the negotiation and congressional approval of trade agreements. It delegated to the executive branch various Congressional constitutional authorities, including Congress’ exclusive constitutional authority to “regulate Commerce with foreign nations.” In particular, Fast Track allowed the executive branch to select countries for, set the substance of, and then negotiate and sign trade agreements – all before Congress had a vote on the matter. Under Fast Track, the executive branch was empowered to write lengthy implementing legislation for each pact with normal congressional committee processes, such as legislative amendments in committee mark ups, circumvented. These executive-authored bills altered wide swaths of U.S. federal law to conform domestic policy to each agreement’s requirements. And, once passed, the trade agreements and implementing bills become federal law, and thus pre-empt state law.
Moreover, Fast Track was unique in that it also delegated to the executive branch control of the schedules of the House and Senate with respect to consideration of trade agreements. Fast Track empowered the executive branch to force a congressional vote on such implementing legislation and the related agreement within a set amount of time, regardless of the views of congressional leaders. Sixty legislative days after the president submitted to Congress whatever agreement he signed and whatever legislation he wrote, the House of Representatives was required to vote on the package. A Senate floor vote was required no more than 30 days later. Under Fast-Track, normal congressional floor procedures also were waived when Congress voted on the final pacts and implementing legislation. All amendments were forbidden and congressional debate was limited to 20 hours.2 Agreements were passed by simple majority votes, even in the Senate.