We have all sorts of concerns about the TPP Agreement (Trans Pacific Parntership), but as we've discussed
(both recently and in the past
), a huge concern is over "trade promotion authority" or "fast track authority," in which Congress completely abdicates its Constitutional role "to regulate commerce with foreign nations." Basically, this power allows the USTR, which is a part of the executive branch, to get Congress to more or less give the USTR the "power" to finalize the trade agreement. Without it, Congress can -- as it should -- debate the different parts of the TPP agreement, and push back on the (many) problematic ones. Yet, if Congress gives up that power, without even seeing the full agreement (!?!?), then all Congress can do is a simple yes or no vote -- and there will be so many goodies in there that it will be difficult for them to reject the entire agreement.
The USTR and President Obama have been talking
about the importance of getting this fast track authority from Congress for years -- but nothing has really come of it, nor has there been a direct public request. That suggests the administration knows it doesn't have the votes. In the past couple of months, the lobbying effort for getting fast track authority has ramped up a lot
. While I still fear that Congress will cave on this, in the past few days, a group of 22 House Republicans
and a (somewhat shocking) group of 151 House Democrats
have sent separate letters to the White House, saying that they're opposed to granting fast track authority. Basically, it appears that Congress might actually be standing up for itself (shocking) on this issue, rather than just caving. That's nearly, though not quite, half of the House. It's not enough yet, but it does show that this isn't going to be easy (which again explains why there's been no real direct request yet).
The Republican letter focuses on the fact that Congress is supposed to (as per the Constitution) manage the nation's trade policy -- not the executive branch. The Democrats' letter calls into question the lack of consultation with Congress during this process (directly contradicting the USTR's own bogus claims
of "working with Congress." The letter doesn't hold back on criticizing the White House, despite being from the same party:
For some time, members of Congress have urged your administration to engage in broader and deeper consultations with members of the full range of committees of Congress whose jurisdiction touches on the numerous issues being negotiated. Many have raised concerns relating to reports about the agreement’s proposed content. While your Administration’s goal was to sign a TPP FTA at the October 2013 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, we believe that to date the process has failed to provide adequate consultation with Congress.
Such opportunity for input from Congress is critical as the TPP FTA will include binding obligations that touch upon a wide swath of policy matters under the authority of Congress.
It later notes that fast track authority "is simply not appropriate for 21st Century agreements."
A NY Times story about the letters notes that there's a lot of anger that the USTR has blocked Congressional staffers from even being able to take part in the negotiations or the discussions -- something we've discussed
over the past couple years.
The amazing thing here is that this mess that the USTR and President Obama are in right now over TPP was easily avoidable
. Rather than negotiating in secret, and only sharing drafts with a select group of deep industry insiders, they easily could have and should have opened the discussion up publicly. The USTR should have released its own negotiating drafts from the very beginning, so that the public and Congress could weigh in while the process was ongoing. That way, there would be no surprises and no concerns. Instead, they kept the public and Congress out of it entirely -- putting extra special precautions against the public or Congress from finding out what was going on, so that we know
the final product will have massive problems. And now they want Congress to just say "Sure, we trust you got it right"? Really? The USTR screwed this one up badly, and it's good to see Congress pushing back on this blatant attempt to usurp Congress' own powers.