On a Wednesday press call Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown complained that the Senate leadership is "rushing" through a vote on "fast track" trade promotion authority – a procedure that in essence preapproves trade deals before the public can know what is in them. He said they are limiting the time for discussion and debate of the bill, limiting the number of amendments that can be offered and engaging in the kind of secrecy similar to what the Obama administration is imposing.
If you are following the trade debate over fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), then you know that the votes are being rushed through the Senate with very little debate. Call your senators today and tell them to support critical amendments and to vote against fast track. There is no reason that our Congress should preapprove a massive trade agreement that the public is not allowed to see.
If senators know people are paying attention it makes a difference. The game now is all about pushing fast track through before the public can rally to stop it. That's why the Senate Republican leadership is trying to get the vote done before the Memorial Day recess.
Press Call With Sen. Sherrod Brown
Brown said that the fast track bill is being rushed through in spite of millions of jobs being at stake. According to Brown, the last time fast track authority was voted on, debate was allowed to continue for three weeks, with more than 50 amendments voted on. Everyone got to explore the ramifications in depth, and this process allowed the public to become informed and weigh in.
This time the debate in the Senate is taking place for less than a week with very few amendments allowed. Brown said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is "shutting down amendments" and is rushing this through.
Brown complained about "not following Senate tradition when we used to debate two or three weeks." He speculated that the reason is that senators do not want to hear the opposition when they go home over the Memorial Day weekend. He said that it is not right that Congress should engage in secrecy, like the way the administration is engaging in secrecy over the TPP agreement itself.
“We can’t have trade promotion without trade enforcement,” Brown said. “That’s why we cannot rush through the biggest trade deal in our history by passing fast track authority this week. While I’ll continue fighting to protect American workers and businesses, I’m urging the administration to make the TPP text public. With millions of jobs on the line, members of Congress, the free press and the American people have a right to an open and informed debate.”
This is a rigged process designed to keep the public from learning what is going on and doing anything about it.
It is not yet clear if the Senate will be allowed to vote on these amendments.
On the call Brown outlined some of the amendments he has offered, to try to "level the playing field" for American workers. These amendments would:
Prevent China from joining TPP without congressional approval: China has expressed an interest in joining TPP. Brown's amendment would spell out the process for future TPP partners to join the agreement. It would require the administration to notify Congress of its intent to enter into negotiations with another country seeking to join the TPP and the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee would have to certify that the country can meet the standards of the agreement. Then the full House and Senate would vote on a resolution giving approval for the country to join. The country's entry could be considered under fast track only if congressional approval and negotiations are completed within fast track’s authorization period.
Level the playing field for American workers and industries: This amendment would strengthen trade rules enforcement. It would level the playing field for U.S. industries – like the steel industry – by increasing their ability to fight back against unfair foreign trade practices. It would restore strength to antidumping and countervailing duty statutes that allow businesses and workers in the United States to petition the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission when foreign producers sell goods in the U.S. below market price or receive illegal subsidies.
Crack down on currency manipulation: This amendment would hold countries accountable to International Monetary Fund standards. It would add explicit and enforceable currency language necessary to ensure that foreign competitors don't use their exchange rates to subsidize their exports at the expense of American-made products.
Secrecy To Keep The Public From Learning What Is Going On
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is being negotiated under extreme secrecy. Even members of Congress have a very hard time finding out what is in it. It is not just members of Congress who are having trouble learning details; the "cleared advisors" who are required by law to give their advice to negotiators are being shut out of the process as well. Michael Wessel is a cleared advisor who is supposed to be able to access the agreement, and even he can't. In "I’ve Read Obama’s Secret Trade Deal. Elizabeth Warren Is Right to Be Concerned," he writes,
Only portions of the text have been provided, to be read under the watchful eye of a USTR [U.S. Trade Representative] official. Access, up until recently, was provided on secure web sites. But the government-run website does not contain the most-up-to-date information for cleared advisors. To get that information, we have to travel to certain government facilities and sign in to read the materials. Even then, the administration determines what we can and cannot review and, often, they provide carefully edited summaries rather than the actual underlying text, which is critical to really understanding the consequences of the agreement.
The agreement is being negotiated in extreme secrecy, by negotiators who by and large come from and/or will go to lucrative corporate positions. Congress and even cleared advisors are having trouble learning what will be in the agreement, but Congress is being pushed to preapprove it with the fast track procedure. Apparently even the fast track procedure is being rushed and rigged.
Call your senators (you can use this OpenCongress tool to get the number) and ask them not to vote to pre-approve the TPP by voting for fast track until We the People know what is in the agreement. Or at least until we know what is in the completed parts of the agreement. Or at the very least not until they have read the agreement themselves with a trade expert at their side explaining what the impact will be on American companies, workers and our economy.
This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.