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September 25, 2007

Mocking the Mock Mark Up

Just when I was beginning to think that last week's Senate Finance Committee's 18-3 approval of NAFTA expansion to Peru was a mockery of the millions of voters that voted for fair trade candidates in last year's elections (not to mention the Peruvian worker and peasant groups that have spent years trying to block the deal), I realized this morning that the mockery had just begun.

The House Ways and Means Committee just held its "mock mark-up" moments ago, and boy was it amped up on the "mock" factor. Without discussion, debate, amendments or input from most members, the Ways and Means Committee "approved" the NAFTA expansion to Peru by "voice vote," meaning none of the positions of the committee's 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans were recorded, and the committee chair just decides subjectively or based on the volume of member's voices whether they think the ayes or the nays won. Witnesses said that the call for "nays" was so rushed that a sneezing member might have missed it.

Under the Nixon-hatched Fast Track, there is a tradition of holding a "mock markup," which Fast Track scholar Hal Shapiro defines as:

"Although not statutorily required, the President submits a draft implementing bill to Congress in order to solicit comments and proposed changes. The President does do because it gives key members of Congress a chance to weigh in on the draft bill, which can allow the President to address any such issues in the final bill and thereby increases its chance of passage. Because the bill actually submitted by the President must be voted on without amendments, the committees of jurisdiction (Ways and Means in the House and Finance in the Senate) have developed an informal practice know as a "mock mark-up" to air their views and attempt to influence the bill. They do so by holding an informal executive session to discuss the draft implementing bill and propose changes, in the form of proposed 'amendments.'... The President is free to accept or reject any such 'amendments' in the bill he ultimately transmits to Congress." (Emphasis added.)

As we've written elsewhere,  Fast Track is an inherently undemocratic process that undermines the Founding Fathers' intention that Congress not only write but actually BE RESPONSIBLE for trade policy. Since Congress has voted through Fast Track (first in 1974) to take its hands off the trade policy steering wheel, the United States has run a ballooning trade deficit and wages have scarcely grown - thanks in large part to our trade policy.

But, if only to show constituents that they care, the congressional committees responsible for trade have often held a hearing on trade deals right before the "mock mark-up," followed by the "mock mark-up" where they debate and propose some amendments. In the past, important labor, development and environmental amendments have been proposed by members - and then often ignored by Bush or the previous GOP committee chairs. But it moves the debate forward and gets members (and the president) on the record nonetheless.

But today, nada. Bienvenidos al Deathstar, companeros.

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