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December 12 2012

Why Is Washington So Secretive?

Charlotte Hays

Are you getting tired of hearing about Speaker Boehner and President Obama meeting behind closed doors to secretly negotiate our future?

Like to know what is being cobbled together before they spring it on us—or don’t spring it on us because they couldn’t reach an agreement?  

Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican from Alabama, is also concerned about secrecy in Washington. The subhead on his piece in today’s Wall Street Journal says it all: “’The world's greatest deliberative body' now is like the Russian Duma, with secret meetings and preordained votes.” (You will need a subscription to read the piece.)

Sessions is writing about the Senate rather than the House. In doing so, however, he captures the poisonous atmosphere of modern Washington in its entirety:   

The United States is on an unsustainable spending and debt course. Without reform, it will lead to economic disaster. Yet a fundamental alteration in U.S. policy won't occur until the American people understand the depth of the danger and the scale of change required. One thing is already clear: Such change can begin only with extensive, messy and even contentious legislative work carried on for months in the open light of day.

This is the exact opposite of the hidden negotiations to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. Washington has become possessed by the idea that a small group of negotiators, meeting in secret, can solve the deep, painful and systemic problems plaguing this country with a single "grand bargain," produced at the 59th minute of the 11th hour. This is a siren song.

The Senate was once called the world's greatest deliberative body. But the democratic process—which leads to consensus, truce or compromise—has been set aside. So for three straight years the Senate has produced no budget, no plan, no long-term proposal of any kind.

I would add to this that Republicans have got to get better at informing the public as to what is at stake: the president has seriously managed to frame the negotiations as whether to raise taxes on “the rich,” even though doing so could further stall the economy.  

He needs to be busted and the public must know that falling off the fiscal cliff is child’s play compared to the fate that awaits our republic if things continue as they are. Republicans have allowed the debate to revolve around the wrong issue, and one that the president can (okay, I’m going to say it) demagogue.

The issue of raising taxes on a small percentage of high earners is certainly important, but the GOP hasn’t managed to explain why it is such a bad idea. 

Sessions urges that next year the Senate “return to regular order.” It should pass a budget and do its deliberations in public.  Good idea. But is it really possible in Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Senate?

This Just In: I just spotted Steve Forbes weighing in on GOP messaging and secrecy:

Republicans cannot win this debate until they realize what the White House already knows: that this war cannot be fought in closed-door negotiations, but must be carried out on the battlefield of public opinion.

Forbes outlines five concrete steps House Republicans should take to shift the momentum. You can read the piece, but Forbes’ conclusion is worth noting:

This war is about much more than the next two weeks. 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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