As early as this week, House Republican leadership is expected to schedule a vote granting President Obama “fast-track” authority on a mega-trade deal. The legislation would empower Obama to finalize details on a new trade treaty with 11 Pacific-rim countries. Under “fast-track”, Congress wouldn’t be able to change the final agreement, but only accept or reject it in whole.
Supporters of the trade deal, named the Trans-Pacific Partnership, say it will promote economic growth by giving American manufacturers and farmers greater access to new markets in countries throughout the Pacific rim. Expanded trade has been good for America and this new treaty, say backers, simply extends that tradition.
It is almost impossible to verify these claims, however, as very few people actually know what’s contained in this trade deal. The current draft is literally locked away in a room in Washington. Only members of Congress are allowed to even review the current treaty language. Any notes they take of the treaties details are confiscated at the door when they leave.
The activist group Wikileaks has released what it says is a draft copy of the agreement. Only five of the treaty’s 29 chapters deal with traditional trade issues like tariffs and market access. Among the other chapters are sweeping provisions on Internet governance and regulation, copyright and investments. The group is offering $100,000 for additional language in the trade agreement.
This trade deal, which would impact at least 40 percent of the U.S. economy, may in fact be good for our future prosperity. At the very least, a deal of this size warrants a vigorous public debate. The secrecy around its provisions, however, does not instill great confidence.
In the early 90s, the debate over granting the president “fast-track” authority to negotiate the NAFTA trade agreement occupied political discussion for months. Billionaire Ross Perot even made opposition to the deal a center piece of his independent run for the White House. The public didn’t just debate the “fast-track” provision, but had a robust discussion of the underlying trade deal itself.
No matter what one feels about the outcome of the NAFTA debate, there was at least a full public debate of the merits of the proposed trade deal. The political discourse of the country was much improved by the months-long back and forth.
In politics today, sadly, we don’t debate issues as much as the theater around those issues. Giving Obama expanded powers to negotiate a deal virtually no one has read is not the same as supporting free trade. Having real concerns about a mammoth agreement binding 12 nations to a sweeping rewrite of international law that is negotiated in the dark doesn’t make one a protectionist.
Whether Obamacare or Dodd-Frank, the U.S. is already reeling from the unforeseen consequences of thousand-page legislation rushed through Congress with little scrutiny of exact legislative language.
As a party, Republicans ran three national campaigns against the idea of passing sweeping legislation no one had read and checking Obama’s tendency to grant himself powers beyond the Constitutional limits. The House GOP even sued Obama over his expanded use of executive powers.
And yet, the House GOP is now leading the legislative push to grant Obama an entirely new set of executive powers. Just this year, Republicans were rightly criticizing Obama for conducting negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program in secret.
The drama this week surrounding the TPP isn’t about Republicans and Democrats as much as it is about Washington and the rest of the country. The political and ruling class in Washington wants to be left alone to govern the country as it sees fit, without the hassle of engaging the public in the discussion.
Mike Flynn, former editor of Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government, is currently running in the special congressional election to replace Rep. Aaron Shock in IL-18.