Apparently The USTR Thinks 'Unprecedented Transparency' Means Hiding TPP Details From 98% Of Congress
from the that's-mighty-opaque-transparency dept
We just wrote about the new bill proposed by Senator Wyden after discovering that the USTR refused to share the TPP with the staff director of the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness — who, officially, is supposed to have oversight on trade negotiations. However, the USTR (apparently with the support of the administration) has gone rogue, and is effectively hiding all the details of what it’s negotiating on from Congress. While Ron Kirk likes to continually talk up how many meetings USTR has held (behind closed doors) with Congress, he conveniently ignores the fact that he is still keeping the US’s negotiating position away from Congress.
Reading through the specifics of Wyden’s speech, you begin to realize that the USTR and the Administration appear to have interpreted the law that creates the Congressional Oversight Group (COG) to mean that the USTR no longer has to share information with anyone in Congress (as it has claimed in the past), but that it only has to share TPP negotiating documents with the members of Congress who are on the Congressional Oversight Group. That’s around 12 members. Out of 535 members of Congress between Senators and Representatives (in the House). In other words, despite the fact that Congress has clear oversight concerning international trade negotiations, and despite the fact that the Congressional Oversight Group was set up specifically to increase oversight of the USTR, the administration has decided that it really means it can keep its negotiating position from about 98% of Congress.
This is part of why Wyden seems so reasonably concerned. The USTR is taking the creation of COG, and basically flipping it on its head. The whole purpose of COG was to increase transparency. And yet, the USTR continues to effectively ignore it, while pretending that it only has to share TPP info with a tiny fraction of Congress, leaving the rest in the dark until it’s too late. That’s insane. How is the Senate supposed to have oversight if the USTR’s own interpretation of the law means that it can effectively reject any effort to oversee it? It’s incredible that the USTR seems to be claiming significant powers that it simply does not have — and even more obnoxious and intellectually dishonest for it to then claim that it’s offering “unprecedented transparency.”
I’m sure that the USTR is holding the meetings with Congress that it claims, but until Ron Kirk learns that transparency means revealing what you’re doing, not just listening to what others say, the USTR is not being even the slightest bit “transparent.” Instead, it’s abusing the process at the expense of the American public.