During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, one of the gravest concerns of the framers was making sure no one person would accumulate too much power. History and experience had clearly shown that such a condition always leads to arbitrary law and despotism. That is why Article I (powers of Congress) comes before Article II (powers of the executive) in the Constitution; and why the framers, in their wisdom, delegated the lion’s share of powers to Congress – the power to make law, the power of the purse, and the power to take the nation into armed conflict (Article I, Section 8). In contrast, the executive’s constitutional responsibility – with very few exceptions carved out, including the shared responsibility with the Senate to “make Treaties” – is generally to execute the will of the people as expressed through their elected representatives. This is called the “Take Care” clause. Even the president’s role as commander in chief is subject to the will of Congress. That title was never meant to confer upon the president the unilateral authority to take the country into armed hostilities or into a state of war. The framers would be horrified to learn that this is often the case today. They might even conclude that, indeed, the constitutional republic they so wisely and painstakingly constructed has at long last become corrupted and destroyed by ambition, artful interpretation and lust for power.
Very soon both houses of Congress will vote on a bill that relinquishes its constitutionally delegated power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations,” by giving the president trade promotion authority (fast-track) to unilaterally negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). I don’t know the details of this agreement; nobody does, including Congress, because all negotiation has been conducted in secret by President Obama and his staff. If this strikes you as contrary to the Constitution’s stipulation that the president is to have treaty making power “by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate,” and that only Congress shall have power to regulate commerce, that’s because it is. The framers never meant for Congress to be able to abnegate its enumerated powers to another branch; such a thing is entirely repugnant to the Separation of Powers doctrine, to our system of checks and balances, and to James Madison’s assurance in Federalist No. 51 that the various branches of government will be prevented from accumulating too much power by making ambition counteract ambition. Yet for whatever reason during the last 75 years, the Congress has done just that. Even more astonishing is that the court has for the most part turned a blind eye, deferring all too often to the executive. Instead of being carefully and deliberately delegated in order to restrain government and prevent tyranny, the powers of government have become Monopoly game pieces to be bartered with and traded among the legislative and executive branches. This is certainly not the constitutional republic the various state conventions thought they were approving when they voted to ratify the Constitution.
I urge you to contact your state’s U.S. senators and congressional representatives immediately and insist that they vote against granting the president fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Treaties and agreements with foreign nations almost always obligate either the treasure or the blood of U.S. citizens, sometimes both, and each one must therefore be subjected to full deliberation by the people’s representatives in Congress. If it’s a good law, then let the people decide. No fast-track authority for the president. No exceptions.
Note: At press time Congress was considering this bill.
Kenneth Winkleman, Boise, is a recent graduate of Boise State University with degrees in Political Science and English Literature. He currently attends graduate school at BSU.