As it becomes apparent that most members of Congress haven't even read the draft of a trade deal criticized by opponents as a monumental surrender of U.S. sovereignty, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is demanding President Obama explain the legal basis for not releasing the text to the public.
In a letter to Obama delivered Friday, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest noted the president is asking for "fast-track executive authority" to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement and other trade deals. Trade Promotion Authority, Sessions reminded Obama, would take away the most basic congressional powers, including the power to write, amend and fully consider legislation on the floor.
Contending the TPP is more a treaty than a trade deal – creating a "nascent European Union" – the implications are "extraordinary," Sessions said.
They "ought to be discussed in full, in public," he said, "before Congress even contemplates fast-tracking its creation and pre-surrendering its power to apply the constitutional two-thirds treaty vote."
Ratifying a treaty requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate. With fast-track authority, an agreement like the TPP could be passed with only a majority vote of both the Senate and the House, and no amendments would be allowed.
“I would therefore ask that you provide to me the legal and constitutional basis for keeping this information from the public and explain why I cannot share the details of what I have read with the American people," Sessions wrote in his letter, which was first published by Breitbart News.
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The fast-track authority bill and the TPP form a package dubbed Obamatrade that, despite President Obama's advocacy, is opposed by most Democrats in the House. Top labor unions contend the deal will result in the loss of millions of American jobs.
In the Senate, Democrats initially blocked Trade Promotion Authority, but it passed 62-37 last month, with only five Republicans voting no. The no votes were Sessions and Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Richard Shelby of Alabama.
Sessions spokesman Stephen Miller told WND that granting fast-track trade authority would give Obama extraordinary powers the senator believes would be detrimental to the nation.
"Not only will fast-track accelerate the loss of jobs to expanded trade deficits, but it will empower the president to negotiate a broad new global governance structure with lasting repercussions," he said.
President Obama argues the agreement "includes strong standards that will advance workers’ rights, protect the environment, promote a free and open Internet, and it supports new robust measures to address unfair currency practices."
The 12 TPP parties, along with the U.S., are Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Curtis Ellis, executive director of the American Jobs Alliance and a WND columnist who is campaigning against TPP on Capitol Hill, said only 18 House Democrats at the moment are prepared to support Obamatrade. A whip count published by The Hill has 109 Republicans as "yes or leaning yes."
Nearly every member of Congress who supports fast-track authority apparently has not read the TPP, Ellis said. Even members of Speaker John Boehner's House leadership team who are whipping the votes – House Rules Committee chairman Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas and Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana – have refused to answer whether or not they have read it.
The TPP text is accessible by members of Congress only in a secured room, and lawmakers are not allowed to disclose the contents.
Among the likely and declared candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Carly Fiorina and Dr. Ben Carson have voiced opposition to TPP.
In support of TPP are former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sens. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Sessions pointed out he received no reply from the president to a May 6 letter that said Congress needed the answers to "several fundamental questions" before even considering whether or not to "grant the executive such broad new powers."
Among the requests, Sessions said, was to make public the section of the TPP that creates a new transnational governance structure known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Commission.
"The details of this new governance commission are extremely broad and have the earmarks of a nascent European Union, with many similarities," he said.
"Reviewing the secret text, plus the secret guidance document that accompanies it, reveals that this new transnational commission – chartered with a 'Living Agreement' clause – would have the authority to amend the agreement after its adoption, to add new members, and to issue regulations impacting labor, immigration, environmental, and commercial policy."
Ellis pointed out that unlike any previous trade deal approved by Congress, the TPP would allow other countries to join by a consensus agreement of existing members.
He noted that the treaty that launched the European Union established a European Commission to enforce the provisions of the pact, which bears resemblance to the TPP’s TransPacific Partnership Commission.
The TPP's commission will ensure enforcement of the agreement and must consider the opinions of other international organizations.
"We could wake up one day and find our businesses are being regulated out of some treaty commission in another country," Ellis told WND.
Free flow of people, goods, money and services
Ellis pointed to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's description of TPP at a White House press conference April 18, which mirrored the European Union's foundational "four freedoms": the free flow of people, goods, money and services among members.
Abe, according to the official translation, said TPP is "an ambitious attempt to create a new economic sphere in which people, goods, and money will flow freely within the Asia Pacific region."
"It's a new economic region of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and rule of law," the prime minister said.
Ellis argued the original European Common Market was always about more than eliminating tariffs between Belgium and France.
The TPP's sister agreement, with Europe – the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – in fact is not described by the White House as a trade agreement.
Asked for an explanation, Obama's top trade negotiator at the time, Ambassador Ron Kirk, told reporters in February 2013 it's "because it is so much broader than trade."
At the same presser, Mike Froman – the current U.S. trade representative who at the time was deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs – said TTIP is "really about both figuring out better ways of integrating our own economies, but also working together to help establish global rules, areas –working together in areas of common interest vis-à-vis the broader multilateral trading system."
Wikileaks has released documents that are part of another trade deal – a companion to TPP and TIPP focused on services rather than goods – which is being hammered out between the U.S., the EU and 23 other nations.
Documents related to the Trade in Services Agreement, or TISA, show the deal would prohibit American citizens from controlling where their personal data is held and whether it can be accessed outside the U.S.