Fast Track Trade Authority Must be REPLACED so Congress Can Steer a New Direction and Create Agreements that Work for Most Americans
By Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch
Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress writes the laws and sets our trade policy. And so it was for 200 years. Yet, over the last few decades, presidents have increasingly grabbed those powers through a mechanism known as Fast Track. Fast Track supporters renamed the process “Trade Promotion Authority” in 2002. But that last delegation of Congress’ authority, which sunset in 2007, was the same extraordinary Nixon-era executive branch power-grab procedure.
Fast Track delegated to the executive branch four elements of congressional authority: power to select trade partners, set terms and sign agreements before Congress votes on them; unprecedented authority to write implementing legislation, skirt congressional committee review and amendment processes and directly submit it for a vote; power to override congressional leaders’ control of House and Senate floor schedules and force votes within a set number of days; and an override of normal voting procedures, including a ban on all amendments and limits on debate. Although it was rarely used, Fast Track was essential to pushing damaging pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) through Congress. In its last years, Fast Track became increasingly controversial as Democratic and Republican administrations alike used it to internationally preempt state policies, seize Congress’ constitutional prerogatives and “diplomatically legislate” significant changes to U.S. domestic non-trade laws. Under Fast Track, Congress faced political accountability for job loss and other problems caused by trade pacts, yet had no authority to ensure that the damaging terms of past pacts were not repeated or expanded.
There is no way to “fix” Fast Track. Its very design forecloses meaningful congressional oversight – or control. Fast Track must be replaced to create trade pacts that deliver economic benefits to the majority, and to shut down the imposition via “trade” negotiation of retrograde onesize-fits-all non-trade policies on federal, state and local governments. Such a new mechanism must put a steering wheel, and when necessary, brakes, on trade negotiators so Congress can ensure that trade agreements promote the public interest. Only by replacing the undemocratic, outdated Fast Track trade authority delegation system can Congress deliver on the public’s strong message of each of the last four elections: no to staying the course on our failed trade policy.