04.28.2015 0

Obama’s secret trade treaty

no fast trackBy Robert Romano

“The one that gets on my nerves the most is the notion that this is a secret deal.”

That was President Barack Obama complaining about criticisms of legislation that would grant him trade promotion authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Chief among those criticisms is the secret nature of the agreement, most recently leveled in a letter by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who wrote, “Members of Congress should be able to discuss the agreement with our constituents and to participate in a robust public debate, instead of being muzzled by classification rules.”

The bill would expedite passage of the trade deal by eliminating any supermajority requirements for Senate passage. Normally, a treaty would take 67 votes in the Senate. With the legislation, however, the final trade deal will pass with simple majorities of both houses of Congress. No filibuster.

But because the negotiated text is classified, the public will not be allowed to see the trade agreement until after trade promotion authority has already been granted, and the voting threshold for passage has been lowered.

Obama attempted to counter the point, saying, “Every single one of the critics saying this is a secret deal, or send out e-mails to their fundraising base that they’re working to stop a secret deal, could walk over and see the text of the agreement.”

Yet, even though Members can read the treaty by going through an onerous process under lock and key, they are not permitted to discuss it publicly. If a constituent calls to ask what is in the treaty, the Member’s staff cannot tell them.

Essentially, Congress is being asked to grant cloture on legislation nobody in the public is allowed to read, and any official who is allowed to read it has to keep their mouths shut about it.

So, here Warren and Brown have a legitimate point.

There can be no public debate if there is no feedback from the American people, media outlets, business groups, or anybody else who is directly affected by this trade deal.

The real question may be where are all the “read the bill” Republicans who made such a fuss how important it was to read the health care law before it was enacted, who now support the Trans-Pacific Partnership before any of their constituents even know what’s in it?

Why does it take Elizabeth Warren to call out Obama’s secret trade deal and demand the public see it before any votes on trade promotion authority occur?

Instead, Republicans have been largely silent on the issue. Apparently, transparency only matters when it is legislation they disagree with.

During this time of unprecedented distrust of Congress, the idea that you have to pass it before you can read it will no longer fly. Members of both parties should immediately demand Obama make the treaty available to be viewed by the public to enable an open and honest debate about U.S. trade policy.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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