WASHINGTON–Progressives and digital advocates are pressuring one senator to turn the tide on the discussion of fast track, a legislative process granting simplified congressional oversight for trade agreements.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, is receiving calls urging him to stand against fast track, said Neil Sroka, a spokesman for Democracy for America, a progressive advocacy group.
Several people in Wyden’s home state not only oppose fast track but are also seriously reconsidering backing him in 2016 if he supports the process, Sroka said.
According to a new poll commissioned by Democracy for America, 50 percent of Oregon voters are less likely to vote for Wyden’s re-election in 2016 if he works with the White House on fast track. Wyden has served in the Senate since 1996.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital realm advocacy group, delivered a petition to Wyden and asked people to tweet directly at Wyden about fast track, said Maira Sutton, the foundation’s global policy analyst.
In response to the recent pressure, Wyden’s office said the senartor is still fighting for a better trade process.
“Sen. Wyden is fighting to update our trade policy to create unprecedented transparency, enforcement of the rules and congressional oversight throughout the entire trade process. He supports trade that fully reflects the values we hold dear in Oregon and in our country– protecting the environment, human rights, labor and free speech online. All of his work on this issue is driven by the knowledge that middle-class and working families must be confident that the U.S. is fixing a trade system that has too often failed previously to work for them,” Wyden spokesman Keith Chu said in a statement.
President Barack Obama is calling on Congress to introduce and pass fast track, or trade promotion authority, legislation that would streamline the process of approving or declining trade agreements. With trade promotion authority, Congress would have a limited amount of time to give a yes or no vote to a trade agreement without the ability to debate or analyze the agreements.
The Internet advocacy group Open Media International views trade promotion authority as the key to passing agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, although it’s concerned that details of the deal are not widely available to lawmakers or the public.
“When we saw the leaked chapter of the intellectual property section of the agreement, it became really clear to us why that secrecy was a problem because obviously if citizens around the world knew what was trying to be negotiated away on their behalfs without them knowing, they would never agree to these negotiations,” said Meghan Sali, Open Media International’s campaigns coordinator.
Because there’s a lack of transparency, citizens cannot weigh the benefits against the costs of these trade agreements in any kind of informed way, Sali said.
Open Media International and other groups are concerned that TPP will increase policing and censorship of the Internet, in addition to lengthening copyright terms
“If it wasn’t secret, if this was all public if Congress… had been holding debates about the copyright provisions in the TPP for instance, I believe that the things that have been revealed through leaks would not be there,” EFF’s Sutton said.
Opponents also fear that the ramifications, though relatively unknown to most people, will extend beyond the Internet.
“Most people have never heard of the TPP and it’s just now… coming to light how dangerous and how destructive these things are going to be not only to the way we use the internet, but to dozens of other industries, to labor and environmental concerns,” Sali said.
Still, Obama has said that businesses need a better trade environment to set the rules for a changing global outlook. “That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers,” the president said during his State of the Union speech.
No Senate legislation on fast track has been introduced yet this year.