Besides the closure of the session, last week also saw the process
known as "fast-track" derailed as it was pulled from
consideration even though leaders on both sides of the political
aisle - from the president and speaker of the House on down -
claimed fast-track is the most important, "bi-partisan"
legislation of 1997. But is fast-track dead? Hardly.
This 25-year-old process is ingrained in the political process
and will not soon disappear. The imperial presidency is alive
and well as Congress continues the process of ceding power to
the executive branch through such processes as the Line Item Veto,
administrative law, the War Powers Act, executive orders and trade
negotiations. As Congress - and especially the House - reneges
on its responsibilities under the concept of separation of powers,
the people suffer by loosing their most important conduit to the
Members of Congress opposed Fast-Track for various reasons: some
sensible, some less so. Serious proponents of fast-track claimed
their support came from a dedication to free trade. Less serious
supporters were swayed by political deals, threats and even pressure
from financial supporters. This process is nothing new, but record
offers were made to persuade Members of Congress to change their
vote and support the fast-track authority - regardless of party
affiliation. Making up the bulk of opposition to the authority
were congressmen supporting the unions and the protectionists,
really concerned only about their particular niches.
And then there were the laissez-faire capitalists, proponents
of individual liberty and low-tariffs, positions held by a scant
few. We opposed the fast-track authority for what it is: an unconstitutional
shift of power designed to promote managed trade to benefit the
politically connected. But the arguments of principled free-traders
were cavalierly dismissed by the supporters of fast-track; thoughtful
opposition is not allowed when it comes to violating the Constitution.
In fact, those offering reasonable arguments against fast-track
were often ridiculed by proponents as "hiding behind the
Constitution." Discussions of concern about damage to American
sovereignty were labeled as "nutty" and derided as being
tinged with "black helicopter" fever. So much for serious
debate on public policy!
There are two points of interest worth noting. First, most members
of the pro-fast-track movement have, in the past promoted ceding
war-making authority to the UN, used taxpayer-money to bail-out
big corporations, and sent ever-increasing sums of your money
overseas in foreign aid to dictators. With all that, is it any
wonder there has been a populist backlash, led by the very different
likes of Ralph Nadar and Pat Buchanan?
Second, the fast-track backers claimed to be the defenders of
free-trade, yet they have no history of ever promoting free market
economics and sound money. Instead they prefer to manage a welfare
state and use the mechanisms of the Export-Import Bank, the World
Bank, foreign aid, and the federal reserve system to benefit their
So why the sudden rhetoric of free-trade to prop-up fast-track?
Could it be that fast-track, the process which gave us NAFTA,
has, in reality, nothing to do with free trade? Could it be that
the real protectionists - the protectors of the big corporations
- have realized that fast-track serves their interests by promoting
a managed trade system that benefits the existing players at the
expense of upstart competitors? Certainly. The ready willingness
to grant exemptions to various industries and commodities during
the negotiations suggests less than a principled effort to promote
free and unhampered trade.
Fast-track is the solution to a non-existent problem. There is
no reason why free trade - if that is really the desired goal
- cannot be accomplished without existing structure. Agreements
can be easily drawn up between nations in a simple, efficient
fashion - with Congress' full participation. Low tariffs and free
trade with any country can be accomplished with an agreement less
than one page in length, it's only when protections for various
industries, bonuses for certain corporations, are added in fine
print that the agreements turn into novels.
The whole debate over fast-track, slow-track and trade barriers
completely ignores a very simple reality: countries that impose
high tariffs on the people suffer much more so than the countries
hoping to export products to them.
The fast-track deliberation has had the effect, either by design
or by consequence, to obscure the real need and processes for
freedom in trade. While it is fortunate that for the many, varied
reasons, fast-track was placed on the political shelf for the
season, the set-back to those who would limit trade is only temporary.
Expect them, and their rhetoric, to be back in full-force when
Congress resumes legislative activity in 1998.
Ron Paul represents the 14th District of Texas. His office may be contacted at 203 Cannon, Washington, DC 20515.