The Washington Post reports that “lawmakers speed up debt-reduction talks.” The headline of that story should read “Lawmakers speed up secret debt-limit talks; details scarce.” Once again, in classic Washington style, these talks are in secret and behind closed doors. Where is the transparency?
The White House and congressional leaders are accelerating negotiations over the biggest debt-reduction package in at least two decades amid mounting concern that the effort is running out of time. Over the next six weeks, negotiators must strike a bipartisan compromise to slice more than $2 trillion from the federal budget by 2021, reduce the complex plan to writing and persuade a bitterly divided Congress to support it.
These negotiators include Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Jon Kyl (R–AZ), Max Baucus (D–MT), and Daniel Inouye (D–HI), and Representatives Eric Cantor (R–VA), Jim Clyburn (D–SC), and Chris Van Hollen (D–MD). They have been meeting in secret for weeks, and little information about the nature of any agreement has been made public. Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner must be in the loop, because he stated this week that he sees “a lot of progress” in the talks. The only thing we know is that Democrats are pushing for tax increases and Republicans are pushing for entitlement reform.
They are seeking to increase the debt obligations of this nation by an estimated $2.4 trillion, yet the American people are not allowed to know what deals these politicians are cutting.
The same thing happened earlier this year during the debate on the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution:
Leaders in the House and Senate went behind closed doors last week and cut a last minute deal to avert a government slowdown. The American people were not presented a specific list of what was in the closed door agreement before the actual text of the continuing resolution was written. In other words, the leaders agreed to the parameters of a deal, but not the actual legislative text of the final continuing appropriations bill to be introduced and voted upon by the House and Senate.
In December of last year, the bill that extended tax cuts for all Americans was negotiated in secret. A deal was cut behind closed doors, and the final tax bill looked far different than the announced deal. Dealmakers used the tax deal to pass a number of tax extenders that continued preferential tax provisions for many special interest groups.
Secrecy during the Obamacare negotiations sparked outrage by conservatives in Congress almost two years ago. Conservatives demanded President Obama fulfill his promise to televise negotiations on C-SPAN. After a deal was cut behind closed doors, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV) sent the bill (the “Vapor Bill”) to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) without letting Senators and the American public read it.
It has been one week since the Senate Majority Leader announced that he had sent his health care bill to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the American people still have not seen Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D–NV) version of Obamacare. Last week 40 Senators signed a letter asking Reid to make all materials he sent to the CBO public.
The stimulus negotiations are another example of a bill that was drafted in secret and then forced down the throats of the American people. Sadly, transparency has become the empty promise of both parties, and both are guilty of cutting the American people out of the legislative process.
At a minimum, the House and Senate should conduct the debt limit debate under the regular rules of proceeding to bills. They should introduce the legislation and allow committees to have hearings. An open mark-up of any debt limit increase measure should be scheduled in the committees of jurisdiction in the House and Senate.
Then the House and Senate should roll out the legislation under an open procedure that allows the chambers to vote on amendments. The debate should occur over a whole week and allow for all members to have a say. This would grant the American people time to digest a deal and to talk to Members of Congress. Anything less would violate the duty politicians have to the voters to allow them sufficient time to participate in the debate over allowing the federal government to borrow more than the $14.3 trillion legal limit.
The only ideas in the open are in the conservative push for “Cut, Cap, and Balance.” This plan has three elements, and they are displayed on the website. Proponents of Cut, Cap, and Balance have provided the American people with specific ideas that are up for public debate.
The secrecy practiced by many politicians in Washington, D.C. is unconscionable.