The battle between organized labor, progressive Democrats and President Obama over the Trans Pacific Partnership continued on Thursday when U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Joe Machin filed the Trade Transparency Act, a bill requiring that the public and Congress have at least 60 days to review and debate any trade legislation before being moved to the floor for a vote. The move was intended to highlight the issue many Americans see with continuing to categorize trade negotiations as classified, especially when it effects the personal finances of millions of workers and business owners alike.
Senators are forced to go into a classified viewing room in order to read the full text of the document, but are not allowed to bring in key staff or take notes on what is included in the bill text. Not only this, but as you would assume for classified documents, elected officials are unable to speak to anyone without proper security clearance about the specific details of the trade negotiations without suffering potential criminal legal ramifications. This becomes a serious issue when dealing with complicated and technical negotiations regarding the largest trade deal in American history. It also raises serious questions about the legislative process and democracy generally when the public is unable to view the content of a bill introduced in Congress, but foreign government officials and private corporations are.
S. 1381; the Trade Transparency Bill, was introduced as part of a unanimous consent request, a procedural move intended to limit debate and structure the amendment process depending on the complexity of the circumstances being negotiated and allowing for tailor made agreements traditionally. But even one opposing vote can derail the tactic, and that is exactly what happened when Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Arizona voted no. In an incredible Orwellian attempt to justify his opposition to government transparency he said "...if senators are concerned about the level of transparency on trade agreements, they should support the current legislation.", referring to TPP itself. Sen. Hatch admitted that he doesn't know exactly what's in the TPP bill, but still decided to kill any effort to bring transparency to the process.
Most Republicans support the trade bill, while a majority of Democrats oppose it.
Later that day the Senate voted 62-38 to end debate on the bill, narrowly gaining the 60 votes needed to proceed. Seen as a victory for President Obama in the march towards winning Trade Promotion Authority, the ability to fast track trade bills without the ability to amend them, he is being forced to team up with Republicans who have opposed such measures as Comprehensive Immigration Reform and appointments to the National Labor Relations Board in an effort to shore up serious opposition from within his own party. This shows that Obama is willing to do whatever it takes to push the agreement through, including alienating unions who have withheld campaign contributions to Democrats in order to re-direct those resources to defeating TPP.
Joe Marchin summarized the stance against TPP by saying, "If this bill is as good for the American worker as proponents have claimed, then the administration and anybody else should not find it objectionable to see the details before Congress is forced to grant the
President trade promotion authority." Warren and Marchin have requested that the content of the bill revealed, which shouldn't be asking to much considering that former President Bush did the same thing with the Free Trade Area for the Americas (FTAA) in the early 2000's. Labor standards and enforcement of those standards should never be kept secret, especially during the negotiation phase.
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