Chief Obamatrade proponent House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) admitted during Congressional testimony on Wednesday evening that despite tons of claims from him and other Obamatrade supporters to the contrary, the process is highly secretive.
He also made a gaffe in his House Rules Committee testimony on par with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s push to pass Obamacare, in which she said infamously said: “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
“It’s declassified and made public once it’s agreed to,” Ryan said of Obamatrade in Rules Committee testimony on Wednesday during questioning from Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX).
What Ryan is trying to convince House Republicans to do is vote for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) which would fast-track at least three highly secretive trade deals—specifically the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP)—and potentially more deals.
Right now, TiSA and T-TIP text are completely secretive and unavailable for even members of Congress to read while TPP text is available for members to review—although they need to go to a secret room inside the Capitol where only members of Congress and certain staffers high-level security clearances, who can only go when members are present, can read the bill.
Ryan’s exchange in which he made this gaffe came as Burgess, who opposes Obamatrade, and Rules Committee chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who stands with Ryan supporting it, were discussing the secrecy of the deal with him. It came right after an incredible exchange where Ryan attempted a ploy to try to save immigration provisions contained within the Obamatrade package as a whole—specifically TiSA—that were exposed by Breitbart News earlier on Wednesday, a problem for which he put forward a phony non-solution designed to get more votes for his Obamatrade agenda but not stop the immigration provisions.
“I would like to add and I stated this up front, that the gentleman Mr. Ryan worked well with not only myself but other members to address specific ideas, concerns, issues and you have done an outstanding job to make sure instead of saying, ‘well that’s not a problem, no I’m not going to get into that,’ you’ve bent over backwards Mr. Ryan,” Sessions said.
“I’ve watched you do this and working with us, whether it be a request from the United States Senate that was done on a bipartisan basis or whether it be one of our members, we have tried to work with those things. This, Dr. Burgess, this is why I can tout this agreement because we’ve tried to go in whether it’s the areas that I’ve talked about—foreign policy, dispute resolution, climate change, sovereignty, immigration, currency, transparency, fast-track, presidential power and more that haven’t previously been addressed—we’ve tried to thoughtfully articulate a good answer and Mr. Ryan has done that most favorably and I think his articulation today is evidence of his knowledge of those parameters therein.”
After Sessions’ pitch, Burgess jumped back in to make another point.
“And I appreciate all of that but again, you read through this language down in the secret room and I welcome the day when people can read it—“ Burgess said, before Ryan cut him off.
“By the way, TPA—it’s declassified and made public once it’s agreed to,” Ryan said.
What Ryan is technically referring to is that TPP will become public if TPA is agreed to—but Congress will lose much of its ability to have oversight over and influence on the process, since TPP is, in many respects, already negotiated. It’s 800 pages long, and on fast-track, Congress will only get an up-or-down vote and won’t be able to offer amendments. The Senate vote threshold also drops down to a simple majority rather than normally having a 60-vote threshold, or in the case of treaties, a 67-vote threshold.
Burgess then moved forward with his point.
“But this is really tough sledding and it’s not an area where I have a lot of familiarity and I’m sorry,” Burgess said. “The language as its written looks to me as if it is something that could be exploited. I appreciate all the safeguards you’ve tried to put in place.
“And with this administration you can leave no stone unturned as far as putting in safeguards but I’m not convinced that we—again I can’t get into the specifics of what I’ve read because of the agreement that I signed downstairs but it concerns me and I’ll just leave it at that and I’ll yield back.”
Sessions then jumped in to say he and Ryan are available to answer any questions about this matter whenever anyone wants—yet Sessions’ committee staff is publicly refusing to answer any detailed questions from Breitbart News on Obamatrade at this time.
“I thank the gentleman,” Sessions said.. “In fact the gentleman, Mr. Levin is correct—there will be some changes that have to go back to the United States Senate but I would like to say with great confidence to my dear friend the gentleman from Lewisville, Texas, that if you still have reservations from your reading of anything I would encourage you to engage the gentleman Mr. Ryan or myself, Dr. Burgess, any time you’d like.
“I’m available. Mr. Ryan’s available. We’ve made ourselves available with specifics on the same level.”
Burgess noted how the process seeking fast-track in the Bush administration was much more transparent than it is now.
“Thank you Mr. Chairman. I promised to be on my best behavior today and I am really trying—it took a long time for me to even be able to see the agreement down in the secret room even though I was willing to sign the release that said I wouldn’t talk about it. It took me a long time to get an audience with the U.S. Trade Representative,” Burgess said. “It should not have done that. Ten years ago we did CAFTA [Central American Free Trade Agreement], Rob Portman was in my office—he lived there. I couldn’t get rid of him.
“This time, I couldn’t get a—it was an act of Congress literally to get him to come and talk to my subcommittee on Energy and Commerce, which is the subcommittee of Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.
“That’s how difficult this has been, so please—I thank you for the work you’ve done in trying to make this an open and fair process but my confidence in this administration has been and remains at an all time low and I appreciate what we’ve heard today but I can’t tell you that I’m mollified by—“
Ryan then interrupted Burgess again to argue that his concerns over the secrecy are why Republicans should relent and support Obamatrade.
“All I would say is all the more reason to pass TPA,” Ryan said. “First of all, yes this administration is different and I can jump on the bash bandwagon better than anybody else as far as how they conduct themselves.”