The Marco Rubio Interview, and the Budget Negotiations

One story that I’ve been meaning to comment on is the GQ interview with Marco Rubio. Attention has focused mostly on the interviewer’s out-of-the-blue question, “How old do you think the Earth is?” I didn’t think Marco answered it particularly well, but the incident certainly does indicate, as many have noted, that the left’s effort to diminish Rubio in advance of the 2016 election is well underway.

But I want to comment on a different moment in the GQ interview, when the interviewer said:

The Republican strategy after Obama came into office was to make sure the president didn’t have another term. The Republicans didn’t have a plan and were just going to say no to everything the president put forth.

Note that this isn’t a question; it is a statement of what the interviewer believes to be a well-known fact. Yet it is an absurd perspective on Obama’s first term, pretty much the opposite of the truth. What actually happened is that Obama came into office with solid majorities in the House and Senate, and the Republicans were shut out of the legislative process. Amendments to legislation were not permitted. Republican initiatives were not allowed to come to the floor for votes. Obama made it clear that he wanted Republicans to sit down and shut up. “I won,” he said. “Elections have consequences.”

The real story of Obama’s early years is that he got pretty much everything he wanted from a Democrat-dominated Congress, most notably Obamacare, the stimulus bill, and generally exploding federal spending. And yet, despite this rather obvious history, the myth of Republican obstructionism has somehow taken hold.

Which brings us to the current negotiations over the fiscal cliff. For reasons I fail to understand, the Republicans’ congressional

Once again, Republicans line up to kick the football

leadership has once again taken the Democrats’ bait and is engaged in secret, closed-door negotiations over what promises to be a cosmic deal. At this point, it appears that the deal will involve some combination of tax increases, restraints in the growth of certain spending, an increase in the debt ceiling, entitlement reform and perhaps even Obamacare. Have conservatives ever done well in such secret negotiations? Not that I can remember.

Moreover, closed-door negotiations have now replaced the traditional, and statutorily mandated, budget process. Our current fiscal situation is the result of a similarly secret process in the summer of 2011, when the debt ceiling was reached. The federal government, in violation of the law, has not had a budget in more than three years. The Democrats openly take the position that as long as they make closed-door deals with the Republican leadership, there is no need for a budget process or a budget.

This is an insane manner in which to make decisions about how trillions of dollars are spent; decisions which will have a great deal to do with whether our children have a future. It is also profoundly undemocratic. And yet, Republican Congressional leaders happily troop off to private confabs with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to decide our fiscal fate, in secret.

One of the few Republicans in Washington who understands the folly of this approach, and has consistently opposed it, is Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. Last week, Sessions released this statement on the current negotiations:

Today, President Obama hosted party leaders at the White House for the newest round of closed-door meetings while the Senate stands adjourned.

We are once again headed toward some secret deal that will be presented in 11th hour and 59th minute, rushed to passage under the threat of panic. Meanwhile, the economy continues to suffer from this ominous cloud of uncertainty.

I can understand why the President wants to operate in secret. When he submitted his budget in February, it was panned across the board for failing to meet any of the targets he set out. So now, instead of putting a plan on paper, the President again retreats to secret meetings. Why should Americans agree to higher taxes when the President and his Majority Leader refuse to say how the money will be spent?

Secrecy cements the status quo: more spending, more debt, more runaway government. It is the enemy of accountability, change, and reform.

It is time to try the one thing that hasn’t been tried: open, public process on the Senate floor. The American people elect Senators to be their voice and their vote in this chamber. We cannot simply rush through some secret deal that no one can amend, alter, review, scrutinize, or dispute. That is why I am calling upon our leaders to guarantee that any plan to avert the fiscal cliff has one full week on the Senate floor with open amendment and debate.

Genuine consensus in which the American people participate can only be achieved through the hard, public work of the legislative process. Differences will be clarified and the true harrowing depths of our financial dangers will be made known.

No “deal” should be passed that the American people and their representatives have not had time to review.

Sessions is right on all counts. In addition, secret deals are a political disaster for Republicans. It is Republicans, not Democrats, who will be accused of intransigence and blamed not only for the apparent stalemate that will precede the last-second deal, but also for whatever elements of the agreement are unpopular with any given constituency. Why not have an open, public debate, in which Republicans can lay out, and vote for, their vision of smaller, cheaper government and lower, more rational taxes? Even if a compromise eventually follows, there will be a record as to which party favored which solutions. And we can begin to restore an open, democratic budget process.

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