As the recent debates surrounding National Security Agency reform have shown, the web has allowed Congress to come under increased scrutiny while laws are being worked out in Washington, D.C.
Citizens have been given a platform to more actively and directly express and debate their views along with representatives in Congress and the White House, rather than being forced to passively watch the process take place on C-Span.
Unfortunately, the latest piece of government legislation to dominate headlines has also been shrouded in secrecy. It involves the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the massive trade deal for which the Obama administration is seeking fast track authority to approve.
The TPP is a free trade deal involving at least 12 Pacific Rim countries — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, The U.S. and Vietnam. The exact terms of the deal have yet to be officially released to the public by any government, and that lack of transparency has citizens concerned about possible adverse effects on things like intellectual property and the environment.
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U.S. citizens are also concerned about the effect the deal could have on moving jobs overseas. Wikileaks recently exposed a draft of the deal, criticizing it for not being harsh enough on enforcement of environmental protections.
“The public sweetener in the TPP is just media sugar water,” said Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange. “The fabled TPP environmental chapter turns out to be a toothless public relations exercise with no enforcement mechanism.”
Although the TPP has the unequivocal support of the Obama administration, its passage has been criticized by members of Congress on both the left and right. It’s an extensive, sweeping deal, so various groups and activists have taken issue with certain parts of it.
In the Senate, progressive Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth Warren have been outspoken in their criticism of TPP, warning the deal would benefit giant corporations more than the American people. In the race for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders has pointed out that Hillary Clinton has yet to take a position on TPP while he outright opposes it.
The current debacle in Congress is whether or not to grant President Barack Obama Trade Promotion Authority — or “fast-track” — which has historically been used to pass trade deals with a simple yes or no vote in Congress.
The idea is that, by not allowing Congress to debate or amend certain provisions, the U.S. government will not need to renegotiate with the countries participating in TPP. As the Washington Post reports, Obama's fast-track privileges expired in 2007.
In a twist on the status quo of Obama’s tenure in Washington, the majority of Republicans — especially those in cahoots with "big business" — are in support of granting him fast-track authority.
According to The Wall Street Journal, all but 20 of the Democrats in the House are expected to vote against it. The trade deal will have a slow yet significant impact on the American and global economies, as well as the U.S.’s foreign policy in Asia.
While former administrations have been able to slide legislation through without consulting the American public, the power of Wikileaks and the web, politicians like Sanders and Warren, and the collective voice of the American people, might stop Obama from getting away with it this time. The vote on fast track authority is scheduled to take place on June 12.
Image Source: Government of Chile/Wikimedia Commons