Senate leaders were all smiles Wednesday after they broke a 24-hour impasse and announced they had reached a deal on how to move forward on a fast-track trade negotiating bill. That legislation would give the president expedited authority to enter into a trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries, otherwise known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.
But how senators will vote on this bill depends largely on how they feel about TPP. And there’s one problem.
“I bet that none of my colleagues have read the entire document. I would bet that most of them haven’t even spent a couple hours looking at it,” said Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who has acknowledged he has yet to read every single page of the trade agreement.
Because, as Brown explained, even if a member of Congress were to hunker down and pore over a draft trade agreement hundreds of pages long, filled with technical jargon and confusing cross-references –- what good would it do? Just sitting down and reading the agreement isn’t going to make its content sink in.
For any senator who wants to study the draft TPP language, it has been made available in the basement of the Capitol, inside a secure, soundproof room. There, lawmakers surrender their cellphones and other mobile devices. Any notes taken inside the room must be left in the room.
Only aides with high-level security clearances can accompany lawmakers. Members of Congress can’t ask outside industry experts or lawyers to analyze the language. They can’t talk to the public about what they read. And Brown says there’s no computer inside the secret room to look something up when there’s confusion. You just consult the USTR official.
“There is more access in most cases to CIA and Defense Department and Iran sanctions documents — better access to congressional staff and others — than for this trade agreement,” said Brown.