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By the late 19th century Congress realized it was far too cumbersome to require a Congressional vote to change individual tariffs, so they delegated to the President the authority to use tariffs as a flexible tool in the exercise of foreign policy.
In 1974 Congress made clear it thought otherwise.
That year Congress acquiesced to a dramatic reduction in its and by extension the citizenry’s authority over trade rules.
Under the new procedure the President was allowed to unilaterally negotiate the final terms of a trade agreement. He would then present the final agreement to Congress, which would be unable to change it in any way and would have a limited time for debate. Instead of requiring ratification by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, trade pacts would require only a simple majority from both chambers.
The NAFTA vote was close: 234-200.
Three-quarters of Democrats voting against while 80 percent of Republicans voted in favor.
The ratification process of NAFTA was challenged in federal courts, but the courts rejected the challenge, ruling in essence that Congress can at its discretion decide when a treaty is not a treaty and can make the process for ratification as undemocratic as it sees fit.
And perhaps most of all we are furious about fast track’s foreclosure of extensive and intensive debate on a complex document of far reaching consequence.
If fast track fails the President can still submit a trade bill.
And we can then launch a much needed and long overdue national conversation about the benefits and limitations of trade and the dangers of ceding sovereignty to a new international constitution whose goal is to limit democracy and expand corpocracy.