Warren, Manchin: Let public see trade deal before vote

Warren, Manchin: Let public see trade deal before vote
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Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration Dems call for action against Cassidy-Graham ObamaCare repeal MORE (D-Mass.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinGOP sees fresh opening with Dems’ single payer embrace Trump steps up courtship of Dems The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-W.Va.) have a new challenge for President Obama on trade: if the terms of the deal are so good, why don’t you release them to the public?

 
The two introduced legislation Tuesday that would let the public see the details of an upcoming trade deal before lawmakers grant it “fast track” authority, making it easier to pass.
 
The fast-track legislation under consideration by the Senate added a new rule requiring the president to post the details of any trade agreement for 60 days before signing it, giving Congress several months to examine the details of any pact. 
 
But with fast-track in place Congress would still get only an up-or-down vote on the deal. And the two senators want the public to see the deal before agreeing to head down that path.

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In introducing the legislation, the pair said Obama should do at least as much as President George W. Bush did, and let the public see the details of an upcoming trade deal before lawmakers grant it “fast track” authority, making it easier to pass.

But the new proposal would also throw a wrench in ongoing trade talks between the Obama administration and 11 other countries, as the White House has insisted it cannot finalize the terms of that trade pact unless Congress agrees to fast-track first.

The bill from Warren and Manchin would require the text of potential trade agreements to be publicly posted before Congress agrees to grant “fast track” status to it.

Currently, Democrats like Warren are engaged in a fierce intraparty battle with the White House over the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade agreement the U.S. is hoping to finalize with a host of Asian nations.

Obama has touted the deal as the “most progressive trade agreement in history,” but liberals and labor unions have strongly objected to its terms, as Warren and Obama have gone back and forth with harsh critiques of each other on the subject.

The White House is pushing Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority, or “fast track” legislation, which would limit Congress’s ability to alter a trade agreement after a presidential administration has agreed to terms. The White House says the legislation is critical to finalizing the TPP, by assuring foreign partners that lawmakers will not alter already agreed upon details.

But the Warren-Manchin bill would require the public posting of the “scrubbed, bracketed text” of any trade agreement before Congress can give it fast-track status. Such a requirement could upend current TPP talks, as the White House has insisted the fast-track bill is a critical first step to finalizing those very terms. 

The U.S. Trade Representative's office pointed to a blog post last month explaining that negotiations on TPP are still ongoing, so a complete text doesn't exist.
 
“So what we haven’t done — and what we shouldn’t do — is publicly announce our bottom-lines in those negotiations to negotiators on the other side of the table,” wrote Greg Nelson, a senior advisor for the National Economic Council in a blog post.  
 
“And there’s a very good reason we won’t do that: We’re trying to drive a hard bargain so the American people get the best deal possible. We can’t do that if we show the other players our cards, so to speak.”

A major gripe from liberal critics like Warren is that under law, they can review the terms of the pending deal in private, but cannot publicly disclose them or discuss them in detail. If Congress is going to agree to a simple up or down vote on a trade agreement, the pair argue the White House should be required to let the public review the terms themselves before a vote.

“The Trade Transparency Act would ensure that the public, experts, and the press can engage in meaningful debate over the terms of trade deals before Congress reduces its ability to shape, amend, or block those deals,” said Warren. “Before Congress ties its hands on trade deals, the American people should be allowed to see for themselves whether these agreements are good for them.”

And in their push, Warren and Manchin note that President George W. Bush made the details of the 2001 Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement public months before Congress gave it fast track status.

“If President Bush was willing to pull back the curtain and allow the American people to view the entire Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, then President Obama should be willing to do the same before we grant him fast track authority,” said Manchin. “If this bill is as good for the American worker as proponents have claimed, then the Administration should let the American worker see the details before Congress is forced to grant the President Trade Promotion Authority.”

However, the FTAA was never finalized.

This post updated at 4:07pm.