Paul Ryan channeled his inner Nancy Pelosi this week, calling for a fast-track to approve trade deals negotiated behind closed doors that are not accessible to the public. Some are not even accessible to members of Congress yet.
Chief Obamatrade proponent House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan admitted during Congressional testimony on Wednesday evening that despite tons of claims from him and other Obamatrade supporters to the contrary, the process is highly secretive. He also made a gaffe in his House Rules Committee testimony on par with former Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s push to pass Obamacare, in which she said infamously said: “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
“It’s declassified and made public once it’s agreed to,” Ryan said of Obamatrade in Rules Committee testimony on Wednesday during questioning from Rep. Michael Burgess.
What Ryan is trying to convince House Republicans to do is vote for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) which would fast-track at least three highly secretive trade deals—specifically the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP)—and potentially more deals.
Right now, TiSA and T-TIP text are completely secretive and unavailable for even members of Congress to read while TPP text is available for members to review—although they need to go to a secret room inside the Capitol where only members of Congress and certain staffers high-level security clearances, who can only go when members are present, can read the bill.
… What Ryan is technically referring to is that TPP will become public if TPA is agreed to—but Congress will lose much of its ability to have oversight over and influence on the process, since TPP is, in many respects, already negotiated. It’s 800 pages long, and on fast-track, Congress will only get an up-or-down vote and won’t be able to offer amendments. The Senate vote threshold also drops down to a simple majority rather than normally having a 60-vote threshold, or in the case of treaties, a 67-vote threshold.
Why so secretive? Putting gag orders on the debate process is a serious government transparency issue, and undermines the ability of Congress to properly discuss and improve the bills before they become laws. Congress represents the will of the people, not the other way around. But how are they supposed to represent their constituents if they are legally prevented from talking to any of them about the bill, or in some cases, prevented from talking to each other?