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A Stacked Deck on Trade

Amy Traub

You probably haven’t seen the terms of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal currently being negotiated by the Obama Administration. Unless you’re one of “600 trade ‘advisers,’ dominated by representatives of big businesses, who enjoy privileged access to draft texts and negotiators” the deal is secret and we know its terms only through select leaks, according to Lori Wallach and Ben Beachy of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

In their opinion article in Monday’s New York Times,  Wallach and Beachy note that the deal “could rewrite broad sections of nontrade policies affecting Americans’ daily lives.” The consequences could be profound. For example, Demos has argued that expanding the American middle class and making it as diverse as the nation itself will require policies such as leveling the playing field for American manufacturing and banning predatory consumer loans. Yet Wallach and Beachy note that leaked sections of the trade deal “would include even more expansive incentives to relocate domestic manufacturing offshore… [and] would practically forbid bans on risky financial products.”

So much for the middle class.

But don’t We the People get a say in this? Wallach and Beachy write:

Of course, the agreement must eventually face a Congressional vote, which means that one day it will become public.

So why keep it a secret? Because Mr. Obama wants the agreement to be given fast-track treatment on Capitol Hill. Under this extraordinary and rarely used procedure, he could sign the agreement before Congress voted on it. And Congress’s post-facto vote would be under rules limiting debate, banning all amendments and forcing a quick vote.

Ron Kirk, until recently Mr. Obama’s top trade official, was remarkably candid about why he opposed making the text public: doing so, he suggested to Reuters, would raise such opposition that it could make the deal impossible to sign.

In Demos’ recent landmark paper, “Stacked Deck” David Callahan and Mijin Cha argue that a tilting of political life toward business and the wealthy has served to undermine economic mobility in America. The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership looks like a very powerful case in point.