(This post is from our new blog: Unofficial Sources.)
The millions of people who signed up to get email from Mitt Romney in 2012 would be pretty irked if they started getting messages now from his team about a super new bill in Congress that raises taxes, cuts the Pentagon’s budget in half and forcibly marries every registered Republican man to Neil Patrick Harris.
So you can imagine how members of Organizing for Action, or OFA, felt when they got email on Friday telling them about a super new “Trade Promotion Authority” bill. Passage of the Trade Promotion Authority, better known as “fast track,” would pave the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty, or TPP, which includes a grab-bag of things the Democratic base absolutely loathes. It would raise the cost of prescription drugs, give Obama an environmental trade record “worse than George Bush’s,” create a special legal system for multinational corporations to kill any domestic law that hurts profits, and much more.
The OFA email was especially head-turning because OFA is a successor organization to President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns (which had the same initials, then standing for Obama for America), built on the email lists developed during those campaigns of millions of volunteers and supporters. And any political campaign’s email lists are, in a real sense, the shared creation of everyone involved in the campaign.
The OFA email did not ask members to take action supporting fast track; instead, it appears to be an attempt to mollify them enough so they don’t take action opposing it. In any case, the email is filled with assertions clearly crafted to mislead OFA members:
• “… though the TPA is often called ‘fast track,’ that’s a bit of a misnomer. TPA is a bill like any other (it must go through both the Senate and the House, and then be signed by the President).”
This is embarrassing. No one has ever believed “fast track” was called that because the fast track bills themselves were fast-tracked. They’ve been called that because they fast-track trade agreements introduced later.
• “This has been the trade agreement process for decades. In fact, presidents on both sides of the aisle have been relying on Congress to pass versions of the TPA since 1974.”
Congress first gave the president Fast Track authority in 1974, but it expired in 1994. It was passed again in 2002 under George W. Bush and lasted until 2007. So presidents haven’t had fast track authority since 1974, they’ve had it for 25 of those years, or about 60 percent of the time.
Moreover, not having fast track after 1994 didn’t stop the Clinton administration from negotiating and passing 130 trade agreements.
• “The rules set by Congress through the TPA guide the framework for the final trade agreement — the President’s team will then negotiate the deal on the international stage …”
The fast track bill does not set any “rules”; it describes “negotiating objectives” that Congress thinks would be nice, but these don’t bind the Obama administration in any way. And “the President’s team” won’t start negotiating the deal if fast track passes — they’ve been negotiating it for five years, and are clearly almost finished.
• “The good news is that this bill ensures … that the entire process is transparent.”
This is perhaps the most deceptive sentence of the email, because for five years the Obama administration has been pathologically secretive about the TPP. Since they began negotiating it in 2010 there’s been essentially no way for regular people to learn what the the treaty contains except for drafts leaked to WikiLeaks. At first Obama’s trade negotiators even refused to allow members of Congress to see the current text. Meanwhile, many corporate executives, as members of U.S. trade advisory boards, are allowed to see relevant sections whenever they want.
It’s true that the fast track bill will require the Obama administration to make the final text of the TPP public, at long last. But fast track also will forbid Congress from making any changes to it whatsoever. So the “transparent process” will be Obama telling Congress: here it is, take it or leave it.
If you’re a member of OFA and would like to say something about the organization’s support for Fast Track authority and the TPP, please get in touch.
Photo: Alex Milan Tracy/NurPhoto/Sipa/AP