Sitting across the table in my radio studio, California Congressman John Garamendi grabbed his head in disbelief when I asked him about the Trans-Pacific Partnership: ‘What’s the president doing?’ It’s the same reaction I’ve received from many Democratic members of Congress over the last few weeks.
Indeed, President Obama didn’t try to persuade his fellow Democrats. He attacked them, instead. Obama dismissed Sen. Elizabeth Warren by noting she’s just ‘a politician like everybody else.’ But, of course, so is he.
Within 24 hours, enough Senate Democrats reached an agreement with the White House to enable a compromise trade package to pass the Senate. But the president’s request for fast-track authority faces even stiffer opposition in the House.
Under fast-track authority, the president says he alone should have the right to decide. That’s a power, which many members of Congress are understandably reluctant to surrender.
Critics in Congress might be more likely to take a back seat on a new trade deal if they only knew what was in it. The problem is: They don’t. And they can’t. White House officials aren’t telling the full story when they insist that every member of Congress has access to the proposed trade package.
Lobbyists and executives for oil companies, auto manufacturers and other key industries have ready access to the deal, since they helped draft it. But members of the House and Senate can only see the document if they make an appointment to do so, one by one, in a secure room — with no cell phone, no notes, no camera, and no staff. They’re expected to read and remember every line of a 29-chapter proposal, which numbers hundreds of pages.
That’s hardly enough exposure on which to make an informed decision. But even that limited access is more than the press or public enjoy.
Most see the $181 billion trade deficit with Mexico and Canada, and the loss of 1 million net U.S. jobs, which many economists relate to NAFTA. Twenty-one years later, we’re still suffering from one bad trade deal. We don’t need another one.