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How Secret Negotiations Play Into the Democrats’ Hands

So now John Boehner is angry that the White House leaked a one-sided version of his latest conversation with President Obama to the press:

Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and Republican leaders are fuming after a late night phone call with President Barack Obama was leaked to the press, despite an agreement that it would not be, according to several GOP aides.

As if this should come as a surprise! It sounds as though Boehner and his aides are starting to get a clue:

Republicans believe the president is more interested in raking them over the coals publicly than striking a deal privately.

Really! They’ve figured that out, have they? I guess they noticed that the Democrats never put forth any sort of plan to deal with the nation’s collapsing finances, but instead demagogue the issue by pretending that the only thing going on is that Republicans are trying to protect rich people. In case they missed it, Jay Carney kicked them again today:

Carney disputed the notion that progress has not been made, but said GOP leaders must agree to raise tax rates on wealthy, not just other revenues.

The slow-learner Republicans say they are catching on to Obama’s intentions:

[Boehner] said Geithner offered no specifics about spending and entitlement cuts, which leads him to believe the administration is not serious about reaching a balanced deal to allay the pending $500 billion in spending cuts and tax increases set to kick in next year.

Of course the Democrats aren’t serious about “reaching a balanced deal.” Of course they don’t have any intention of cutting either discretionary spending or entitlements. Is John Boehner really the last person in the world to figure this out? Nevertheless, despite the blindingly obvious fact that the Democrats are incapable of acting in good faith, Boehner says “he remains hopeful that a deal can be reached in the coming weeks.”

Naturally a deal will be reached. That’s what always happens. It will be a lousy deal for conservatives, too. The Democrats will skate, as usual, and will not pay a price for the fact that they are completely unserious and have no clue as to how the U.S. can have a sustainable fiscal future. This is what happens when the Republicans let the Democrats off the hook by negotiating a back-room deal that is then jointly presented by leaders of both parties. What the Republicans should do is agree to a brief bridge deal that will preserve the status quo for, say, 120 days. There then should follow an open, public, budgetary process in which the two parties present their rival fiscal plans. That should be easy, right? The Republicans control the House, so they, after appropriate debate and amendments, can vote to adopt a plan to avoid the proverbial cliff. In fact, they did so last summer. How many people know that? Approximately zero.

Meanwhile, the Democrats control the Senate, so they can do the same thing. Harry Reid can introduce a fiscal plan–maybe even a budget! Maybe even Obama’s budget!–and it can be debated. Amendments can be offered and voted upon. A roll call can be taken at the end. A conference committee can reconcile the House and Senate bills, and then all members of both houses can vote on the resulting compromise package. A rational process, conducted in the light of day, will allow voters to see what measures each party, and each member of the House and the Senate, favors. Given that the Senate hasn’t adopted a budget in more than three years, I suspect a lot of Americans will be surprised at what comes out of that body.

But none of that will happen as long as John Boehner is willing to continue kicking the football, and as long as his caucus supports him in the effort.

UPDATE: A Republican on the Senate Budget Committee writes:

This is what happens when we keep doing these negotiations in secret. No way to verify whether this is true:

The proposal, offered by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as he made a round of meetings with congressional leaders in the Capitol Thursday, calls for increasing tax rates on incomes over $250,000, a one-year postponement of looming spending cuts in defense and domestic programs, and some $400 billion in savings over 10 years from Medicare and other entitlement programs.

I’d also note there is no mention of spending cuts the size of which would make the president’s plan truly “balanced.” Even the entitlements claim sounds eerily similar to the one the President proposed in his budget, which was shown (see health care section) by Budget Committee staff to be a giant gimmick as the “doc fix” wasn’t even accounted for. (They couldn’t account for it, because it wiped out the savings.) It’s likely they’re making the same proposal now. But the only way we can know and prove it is if they put it on paper and let CBO score it—which of course can’t happen as long as the negotiations are secret.

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