Okay, this is getting really creepy.
We’ve got Republicans – Republicans – stumbling all over themselves to give a president they have nearly universally opposed massive power to do trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while congressional members of his own Democrat Party have lined up against it. What gives?
It’s not that such power given to President Obama would be unprecedented: It is known as TPA, or Trade Promotion Authority (a.k.a. “fast track”), and, as noted by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in an April report, the last one expired in 2007.[PDF]
“TPA is the authority Congress grants to the President to enter into certain reciprocal (free) trade agreements (FTAs), and to have their implementing bills considered under expedited legislative procedures, provided he observes certain statutory obligations,” the CRS notes. “TPA defines how Congress has chosen to exercise its constitutional authority over a particular aspect of trade policy, while presumably giving the President added leverage to negotiate trade agreements by effectively assuring U.S. trade partners that final agreements will be given swift and unamended consideration.”
And this is the trade authority that Obama currently seeks and Republican leaders in the Senate have been in such a hurry to grant him, over Democratic objections.
It’s the secrecy, stupid
So if this is an old authority, what’s the problem? The fact that a) few lawmakers know what is actually in the TTP agreement, which means b) the American people, who are supposed to be represented by members of Congress, also don’t know what’s in it. And in the past, Congress – and their constituents – largely knew the details of prior fast-tracked trade agreements.
What’s more, there have even been admissions by some leading Republicans pushing TPA that they have no idea – or little idea – of what is in the TPP. That should alarm Americans.
In recent days, as Senate Republicans, who hold the majority, were wrangling to get enough votes to pass TPA in their chamber, the absurdity that has become a central sticking point in this entire charade was on full view. On May 22, Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts pushed for immediate consideration of legislation that would actually make the 700-800-page text of the agreement public; currently, members of Congress who want to view the agreement must go to a secured room, under guard and without note-taking materials, cell phones, etc., if they want to read the agreement. Further, they are sworn to secrecy so they cannot talk about it publicly. How’s that for transparent government?
But GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah objected, and the motion failed because it required unanimous consent.
Again, in a bizarre twist of fate, the two Democratic senators went on to praise George W. Bush for releasing the text of a trade agreement that he was negotiating in 2001; he was eventually given fast-track authority under the the Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Act of 2002, the CRS noted.
“We’re just asking for some transparency before we have this crucial vote,” said Warren.
“In our democracy, we are supposed to work in secret”
And as reported by Breitbart News:
She said people have heard a lot about the trade bill, but haven’t seen it. The press hasn’t seen it, neither have economists or legal experts because the Administration making it impossible any of those people to read it.
“We should keep the deal secret because if the details were made public now, the public would oppose it,” mocked Warren. “Well, that’s not how our democracy is supposed to work.”
Huh? Doesn’t Hatch have that completely backwards? That is how our government is supposed to work – via the consent of the governed.
The senior Utah senator added further insult to injury regarding the people’s trust when he admitted, “I don’t know fully what’s in T.P.P. myself, and I am going to be one of the most interested people on earth when that comes, if not the most interested, you know, when they finally agree. But there is — it’s still not a completed agreement, as far as I know.”
The last time Congress fast-tracked a massive bill that no one had bothered to read was the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare (thanks to Democrats on that one). And we are seeing how that worked out.
Like I said, creepy.
The point is, there is a reason why there is more secrecy surrounding this trade deal than there is surrounding some of the nation’s top national security priorities, and as such, you have to wonder why – what is in TPP that must be kept from the public?
For now, too few lawmakers on Capitol Hill seem interested in having Obama answer that question.