Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Pascrell Criticizes Content in Star Ledger Article Suggesting that Congress Should "Get of the way" of the President's request for Fast-track Trade Negotiating Authority

May 23, 2002
Op-Ed

To the Editor:

I was dismayed to read your views (Give Bush trade powers, 5/21/02) regarding the President's request for fast track trade negotiating authority, particularly the notion that Congress should "get out of the way."  This proposal passed the House by the overwhelming margin of one vote, and has been debated in the Senate for four weeks.  There is hardly a consensus that fast track should be enacted, and it is Congress' absolute obligation to examine thoroughly the merits of this proposal.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states clearly that Congress should do exactly the opposite of what is suggested in your editorial.  It says, "Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises."   The founding fathers said quite unequivocally that it is Congress' responsibility to "get in the way" and vigorously represent the interests of those who sent us to Washington.   It is the Congress that is charged with ensuring that trade agreements are fair and beneficial to hard-working Americans.

Fast track says we should abdicate that responsibility.  It says the Members of the "people's House" should not represent the people, that we should sit on our hands, pass the buck, and allow the Administration to continue to unilaterally disarm by negotiating one sided trade agreements.  Fast track amounts to a blank check for the Bush Administration as it seeks to move production from thousands of New Jersey manufacturing firms elsewhere around the globe. 

One amendment passed in the Senate and supported by Senators Torricelli and Corzine, is the Dayton/Craig amendment, which you describe as "dubious".  This essential safeguard would simply and fairly require regular procedure, not "fast track" procedure, when the Administration acts counter to dumping protection laws currently on the books.  Last year, the Bush Administration ignored the explicit will of Congress and offered up these important dumping laws as a bargaining chip in its negotiations at the World Trade Organization.  These laws have helped save vital parts of U.S. manufacturing, including the 13,000 manufacturing firms in New Jersey, and they should not be bartered away.

You also state that "Free trade deals contributed heavily to the prosperity that the United States enjoyed in the 1990s."  This statement ignores the trade deficit of $450 billion that is increasing every year and has reached 4.5% of our Gross National Product.   It also ignores that unemployment has reached 6% in March.  Our country has lost 1.3 million manufacturing jobs over the past year, mainly due to our weak trade laws that foster the shipment of good jobs overseas.

The American people want trade agreements that contain enforceable labor, environmental, and public health provisions.  They do not want trade agreements cut in back rooms without consultation with their elected representatives.  Rather than the closed and opaque negotiations under fast track, a more democratic proposal would be to require Congress to vote prior to any formal U.S. entry into a binding international agreement.

The concept of fast track was developed during the Nixon Administration, when trade deals were about two things: tariffs and quotas.  It is no longer responsible to look at trade policy in simplistic terms of protectionist versus free trade.  Today's trade debate includes important issues such as food safety, worker safety, environmental laws, local banking and tax standards, public utilities, and airline security, just to name a few.

President Clinton did not have fast track authority, and he was able to implement dozens of trade agreements, including ones with African nations, the Caribbean, and China.

Fast track fails our Constitution.  It fails to guarantee that workers will have their voices heard as trade deal affecting their lives and their families are crafted.  I believe, as I did when President Clinton sought fast track authority, that it should be defeated.

Rather than ship more good jobs overseas, let's ship the fast track legislation out of here once and for all.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.

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