While Mark Penn's gaffes are grabbing headlines, the Bush administration has taken the unprecedented action of sending the Colombia FTA to Congress under Fast Track rules over the objections of congressional leadership. Since Fast Track was first enacted in 1975, no president has ignored congressional leaders by forcing a trade vote under Fast Track without addressing Congress' concerns. Fast Track allows only 60 legislative days for the House of Representatives to consider a 600-page plus trade deal; debate is limited; and no amendments are allowed. In fact, Richard Nixon devised the Fast Track process in 1973 as a way to grab Congress' constitutional authority over trade.
Despite this three-decade history, some are splitting hairs over the status quo trade model, as this quote from today's New York Times shows:
"Pennsylvania lost a lot of steel jobs in the '80s, before Nafta," said G. Terry Madonna, a professor of public policy at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
It's important to remember that Pennsylvania has lost 25 percent of its manufacturing jobs – or 222,000 – since NAFTA and the WTO went into effect. But it's not surprising that some of today's trade damage could also be seen in the 1980s. NAFTA locked in and deepened a trade model that originated in the 1970s, when corporations began to use trade policy as a vehicle to push an agenda of radical deregulation of the economy. The year Fast Track became law (1975) was the last year we had a trade surplus; the year U.S. manufacturing employment peaked (1979) was the same year the first Fast Tracked legislation was passed. Indeed, Fast Track provided the basic trade framework which paved the way for 3 decades of offshoring of production, trade rules that constrain ever deeper areas of domestic, non-trade regulations, and an erosion of checks and balances between the branches of government.
(Disclosure: Global Trade Watch has no preference among the candidates.)