Cover photo from Bill Moyers
It reads like the black hole ops in FBI thriller novels: members of Congress and the committees charged with studying the Obama Administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal before passing it have to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor’s Center and sign out a copy – one section at a time – which must be read in the room itself and returned before leaving, and no notes or recordings of it may be taken out of the room when the congresscritter leaves. And once the person has left the room and the documents behind, all lips are to be sealed.
“It’s like being in kindergarten,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who’s become the leader of the opposition to President Barack Obama’s trade agenda. “You give back the toys at the end.”
And for a liberal the likes of DeLauro to say anything against the Obama White House, the negotiating going on must be something truly out of the ordinary.
Why so secret? According to the Obama Administration, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal would be in serious trouble if any of the details leaked. Details like what the Obama Administration has promised other countries, and what they are going to ask Congress to do with the passage of the deal.
According to Politico’s account, which is sharply critical of the non-transparency the administration is insisting on in order to negotiate the deal, all the secrecy is killing any chance it will actually pass either house of Congress up or down vote or no.
“The access to information is totally at the whim of [United States Trade Representative] Ambassador [Mike] Froman,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), who’s a hard no on fast track but says he’d like to see other ways of promoting international trade. “He likes to make available information that he thinks helps his case, and if it conflicts, then he doesn’t make the information available,” Doggett said.
Doggett, like other critics, pointed out that the cover sheets of the trade documents in that basement room are marked only “confidential document” and note they’re able to be transmitted over unsecured email and fax — but for some reason are still restricted to members of Congress.
“My chief of staff who has a top secret security clearance can learn more about ISIS or Yemen than about this trade agreement,” Doggett said.
“He’s incredibly condescending. It’s like, ‘You’d be all for this if only you hadn’t gotten an F in economics,’” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who said he’s opposed to what he’s seen because it lacks labor standards and measures to address currency manipulation.
“We know when we’re being suckered,” said Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who said he believes that the USTR quotes percentages instead of absolute values on trade statistics that give an overly positive impression. “It’s not only condescending, it’s misleading.”
It seems that at issue is giving Obama fast-track authority for trade deals with the 12 nations involved. That means that future trade deals will be voted on on straight up or down votes with no amendments after being negotiated. This seems to be a pre-condition of the deal for Japan and New Zealand in addition to other members of the trade group.
To make matters more interesting, today, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would work to block any vote for the trade deal as it will not benefit the American Middle Class, and that there are more important issues to tackle.
Reid told The Huffington Post he now wants the Senate to put the trade bid on hold, until the chamber first deals with an infrastructure bill and proposed surveillance reforms.
“We have two very complicated issues that I think should have strong consideration before we even deal with trade,” Reid said in the interview. He reportedly said he’s spoken with Democratic colleagues about banding together to ensure those two bills are addressed before moving forward on trade.
“I’m not willing to lay over and play dead on trade until we have some commitment from them on surface transportation,” he told The Huffington Post.
Multiple members of the Obama Administration cabinet have been actively lobbying Congress to approve the deal. But still, no one is telling the details. And for people who want to know what they are voting on before they commit one way or another, this is a problem.
So is the entire concept of fast track trade deals. Even some Democrats agree with that.