The top members of the Senate Finance Committee have introduced bipartisan legislation to give the administration more authority to negotiate trade deals. But many Democratic members are furious about how they got there.
The committee held a hearing Thursday morning on the subject of trade-promotion authority, also known as "fast-track authority," which would give the Obama administration more leverage to negotiate trade agreements like the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.
After a break in the hearing for votes, Republican Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and Democratic ranking member Ron Wyden introduced such "fast-track" legislation—which would make the final trade deal subject to a simple up-or-down vote, without the ability to amend—surprising some of their colleagues. The hearing, they said, was called on short notice—and called before the deal between Hatch and Wyden was announced and they were able to see it.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, a critic of the trade deal and trade-promotion authority, told National Journal that his staff had only learned of Thursday's hearing roughly 12 hours before it took place.
"I have great concerns that this is fast-tracking 'fast track,'" Brown said. "I am hopeful that the chairman will actually listen to what members said and the ranking member will fight for us to get enough time to actually discuss."
During the hearing, Brown was adamant there should be a legislative hearing on the legislation before there could be a markup. After the hearing, Hatch told National Journal he hoped to mark up the legislation next week. "I hope we can do it in a day, there's no reason not to," he said.
Many Democrats have been critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying it could weaken labor and environmental standards. They're also skeptical of giving the administration more authority in negotiations on the deal, which have largely been shrouded in secrecy, a sticking point for many Democrats who have complained about the lack of access to documents related to negotiations about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, such as the positions of other governments on points of contention.
On Thursday, Sen. Chuck Schumer said the committee should have more time to discuss trade-promotion authority.
"To say that we're having a hearing now before we've seen the agreement or even to say we'll do it one hour after the agreement is not fair, and not right, and not adequate on such an important issue," Schumer said in the morning hearing in reference to the legislation that was ultimately announced by Hatch and Wyden later in the day before the committee reconvened.
Sen. Bob Menendez on Thursday said the Finance Committee's deliberation of trade-promotion authority should mirror that of the Foreign Relations Committee's markup process of the Corker-Cardin Iran legislation. There, he said, members were able to review the act and add amendments.
"I hope that today's last-minute hearing is not a sign that [trade-promotion authority] will be forced through this committee without the open, broadly germane opportunity to first consider the bill and then to offer views as to how we perfect it," Menendez said.
Hatch brushed off the critics on Thursday.
"'Just give me a break'—that's how I respond," he said. Hatch also responded to why he was not going to have another hearing with critics. "Because I don't want to. One hearing's enough."