Wyden To Obama: Hollywood Shouldn't Know More About TPP Than Congress
from the transparency? dept
Senator Wyden has been at the forefront of raising concerns about the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (as with many other issues we follow), specifically over the total lack of transparency from the USTR on the issue. While USTR Ron Kirk has pretended that “listening” to a few people is transparency, it’s not. Actually sharing what you’re doing is transparency.
Now, it’s one thing for the USTR to refuse to share with the public what it’s supposedly negotiating on their behalf — but what if it is refusing to share with the very people in charge of overseeing its actions? As you hopefully know it’s Congress, not the Executive branch, that has the authority to regulate foreign commerce. While the USTR is often granted the power to handle negotiations, it is only to be done with oversight from Congress.
So, you would think that the staff director on the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, would be able to “oversee” what the USTR is doing by getting a copy of the USTR’s positions. That staffer, who works for Senator Wyden, got all the proper security clearances… and the USTR basically gave him the finger. According to Wyden:
As the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness, my office is responsible for conducting oversight over the USTR and trade negotiations. To do that, I asked that my staff obtain the proper security credentials to view the information that USTR keeps confidential and secret. This is material that fully describes what the USTR is seeking in the TPP talks on behalf of the American people and on behalf of Congress. More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing.
But you know who’s not having any trouble seeing the details? The MPAA, Comcast, PHRMA and others. Again, from Senator Wyden:
The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations – like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America – are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement.
Wyden is introducing some new legislation in response to this, called the Congressional Oversight Over Trade Negotiations Act, which is actually just a clarification of legislation passed in 2002 that created the Congressional Oversight Group in an attempt to increase coordination between Congress and USTR on such matters. Again, Senator Wyden:
Congress passed legislation in 2002 to form the Congressional Oversight Group, or COG, to foster more USTR consultation with Congress. I was a senator in 2002. I voted for that law and I can tell you the intention of that law was to ensure that USTR consulted with more Members of Congress not less.
In trying to get to the bottom of why my staff is being denied information, it seems that some in the Executive Branch may be interpreting the law that established the COG to mean that only the few Members of Congress who belong to the COG can be given access to trade negotiation information, while every other Member of Congress, and their staff, must be denied such access. So, this is not just a question of whether or not cleared staff should have access to information about the TPP talks, this is a question of whether or not the administration believes that most Members of Congress can or should have a say in trade negotiations.
Again, having voted for that law, I strongly disagree with such an interpretation and find it offensive that some would suggest that a law meant to foster more consultation with Congress is intended to limit it. But given that the TPP negotiations are currently underway and I – and the vast majority of my colleagues and their staff – continue to be denied a full understanding of what the USTR is seeking in the agreement, we do not have time to waste on a protracted legal battle over this issue. Therefore, I am introducing legislation to clarify the intent of the COG statute.
The legislation, I propose, is straightforward. It gives all Members of Congress and staff with appropriate clearance access to the substance of trade negotiations. Finally, Members of Congress who are responsible for conducting oversight over the enforcement of trade agreements will be provided information by the Executive Branch indicating whether our trading partners are living up to their trade obligations. Put simply, this legislation would ensure that the representatives elected by the American people are afforded the same level of influence over our nation’s policies as the paid representatives of PHRMA, Halliburton and the Motion Picture Association.
How ridiculous is it that a Senator in charge of oversight of the USTR has to introduce special legislation just to find out what’s being negotiated by the USTR, supposedly on the public’s behalf? The ridiculous levels of secrecy from the USTR are shameful. It’s sad that it hasn’t received more attention.