By Dave Oedel
This could be an awkward six years as Georgia citizens figure out who it is they really elected to the U.S. Senate.
Freshman U.S. Senator David Perdue, R. Ga., in his first speech from the well of the Senate in Washington D.C. on April 27, 2015, said that we’re in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Why? Because, Perdue said, we have “allowed this President to run the country without Congress for the past six years.” Perdue said that, to “create a new beginning, we must get back to our founding principles, articulated in our Constitution.”
That rhetoric matched Perdue’s campaign statements, after which he handily beat Michelle Nunn, 53-45 percent, on November 6, 2014. Nunn had offered a more solicitous view of presidential authority – a view that Georgia’s voters firmly rejected.
This past week, though, Perdue again acted in apparent contradiction to his own early rhetoric when he voted to cede “fast-track” trade authority to the president.
The Macon Monitor already noted in prior editions how Perdue relinquished constitutional senatorial authority over another constitutionally dicey question – whether to cede authority to the president to lift economic sanctions on Iran, supposedly justified to gain what the administration claimed would be a modest level of transparency and restraint on Iran’s development of nuclear capabilities.
The fast-track trade bill that squeaked through the Senate this past week with Perdue’s important help is another example of a constitutionally dubious expansion of presidential power.
When big money flashes through Washington on the “fast track,” ordinary citizens would be well advised to watch out. This is a case in point.
The basic “fast-track” concept, which has been used several times since its first use during the presidency of Republican Gerald Ford in 1975, is one that turns the basic law-making process backwards. Instead of Congress, after debate and amendment, passing laws that the president then signs or vetoes, the fast-track trade authority puts the president in the driver’s seat, unconstitutionally. For trade deals with other nations under fast track, the president proposes the deal to Congress, and Congress has to vote it up or down without amendment or veto.
The whole fast-track scheme is probably unconstitutional as a violation of the basic constitutional law-making process clearly articulated in the Constitution. The Supreme Court has warned about such formally and structurally unconstitutional law-making approaches in cases involving the so-called “legislative veto” and “line-item veto.” However, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the fast-track trade authority.
Perdue and his fellow Republicans have justified their support for fast-track presidential trade authority as being good for business. Certainly the heavy-hitter companies that dominate the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support the proposal and Perdue’s votes, alongside his Republican leadership, which would give big business one main target for persuasion – the president — rather than 535 points of persuasion – Congress.
Senator Perdue is revealing himself to be more of a big-money businessman rather than the ardent constitutionalist that he purported to be during his campaign and in his inaugural Senate speech.
Had Perdue run on a big-business-beats-Constitution platform, he might have been okay. But he didn’t, and Perdue has quickly gotten himself into a heap of trouble with the voters of Georgia. Georgia’s voters aren’t keen on giving more benefits to the big companies that have taken jobs off-shore and away from places like Middle Georgia. And they also didn’t like freshman senators like Wyche Fowler and Max Cleland who drifted with the Washington winds. Both of them suffered defeats after single senatorial terms as a result.
Perdue is quickly proving himself to be a disappointment to the constitutional conservatives who were keys to his election. There are less than five years left until the next election cycle for Perdue’s seat. Potential Republican opponents are already taking note, and quietly making tentative plans to challenge Perdue in the Republican primary.
On the Democratic side, potential opponents also smell vulnerability. They see a link between their traditional voters and the constitutional conservatives, probably not enough to unify behind a single candidate, but enough to neutralize conservative enthusiasm for Perdue. The major formal opposition to fast-track authority has been heard so far mostly from the Democratic side of the aisle, where a split has developed between people like Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a rising star, and President Obama.
President Obama now likes the idea of getting fast-track authority, despite the fact that he opposed it while a presidential candidate. Perdue may take heart from such flagrant flip-flopping, and that Perdue has five years to go before a price with the voters is to be paid.
But first substantive impressions can be lasting, especially for a neophyte politician like Perdue. His senatorial beginning may foretell his political end. Time will tell.