Secret Negotiations: A Path to Disaster

Reports from Washington indicate that John Boehner and Barack Obama are negotiating the nation’s fiscal future under the cover of darkness. Boehner apparently reports to his House Republican caucus from time to time, and Mitch McConnell might have some idea what is going on, but no Republican other than Boehner seems to be playing a significant role. Washington Republicans who are most knowledgeable about the budget are apparently being shut out of the process altogether.

We have seen such secret negotiations before, and they have never ended happily. Indeed, it was precisely such a back-room deal that gave rise to the present fiscal crisis. It is entirely predictable that at the last possible moment, Obama and Boehner will announce a deal that will then be rushed to a vote before anyone has time to understand what is in it. Months later, it will be determined that the deal includes tax increases that will take place immediately, and spending “cuts” that will take place never. The nation will continue on the path to more and more spending, higher and higher deficits, unsustainable entitlements and ultimate insolvency.

Today Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, rose to the Senate floor to denounce the back-room process that is now unfolding. Sessions is, apparently, one of many knowledgeable Republicans who are playing little or no role in the Boehner-Obama talks. Here are Sessions’ remarks:

I rise today to express my reservations about the fiscal cliff negotiations that are currently underway.

Over the last two years, Congress and the President have held an endless series of secret negotiations. There have been gangs of six and eight, a supercommittee of 12, talks at the Blair House and the White House. But the only thing these secret talks have produced is a government that skips from one crisis to the next. Everything has been tried but the open production of a 10-year budget plan as required by law and open discussions of the difficult choices.

All of this secrecy allows the President to position himself as being in favor of a “balanced” plan while the only comprehensive proposal he put on paper, his FY 2013 budget, increases taxes to fuel a further increase in spending. In fact, despite a massive tax increase of $1.8 trillion, his budget also calls for $1.4 trillion in new spending. The result is $25.4 trillion in total debt at the end of 10 years—an unacceptable course.

Insofar as I can see, a tax-and-spend policy remains his goal today. The White House isn’t planning to raise taxes to reduce the deficit, but to grow the government. I don’t believe Congress will accept such a deal if that is what is being discussed.

President Obama campaigned on a tax increase of “only” $800 billion. But now the White House is demanding $1.6 trillion in new taxes. Don’t the American people have a right to see these taxes and where they will fall? Shouldn’t the President of the United States, the only person who represents everybody in the country, lay out his plan, or must that remain a secret too? Will it just be revealed to us on the eve of Christmas or eve of the new calendar year? We will be asked to vote for it, to ratify it like lemmings, I suppose.

The White House has repeatedly asserted that they believe in $2.50 in spending cuts for every $1 in taxes hikes. So if the White House now wants $1.6 trillion in new taxes, where is the $4 trillion spending cut?

In fact, the President is giving speeches calling for even more spending. On Tuesday, he gave a speech in which he said he wants to use the tax hikes to “invest in training, education, science, and research.” Investment, of course, is just code for spending.

Not once in the speech did he discuss entitlements, our $16 trillion debt, or the economic catastrophe that could occur if we don’t get off this unsustainable path.

The President will go out to the press and use all the buzz words—he says he’s for a “balanced plan,” and talks about a “responsible path to deficit reduction.” But where are the cuts? What is the plan? It seems to me the President’s plan is to talk in general, to meet in secret, and then, under threat of panic, to force through some deal that maintains the status quo: more taxes, more spending, more debt.

That’s why the process needs to be taken out of the shadows. With public debate, people would learn facts that are now obscured.

People would discover that, according to CBO, mandatory spending—that’s entitlement programs of all kinds—is going to increase nearly 90 percent over the next decade. We already spend $2.32 trillion on mandatory costs today, but will spend $4.12 trillion in the 10th year of the budget window. That’s a huge increase.

People would also learn that welfare costs are now the single largest item in the budget—exceeding Medicare, Social Security, or defense. We spend enough on these poverty programs to send every household beneath the poverty line a check for $60,000. And the President’s budget did not deal with that at all; in fact, welfare spending would increase another 30 percent over the next four years.

The Budget Control Act that was passed 15 months ago explicitly failed to address some of these programs. Is this going on again? Like the Budget Control Act talks, is welfare spending off limits, not to be discussed? Or will welfare reform be part of the framework?

I don’t see how we can support a plan that doesn’t at least begin to reform these programs and improve their operation.

Meanwhile, as the President demands more taxes, he refuses to do anything about government waste. Lavish conferences, duplicative programs, billions in refundable tax credits being mailed every year to illegal immigrants. No one is managing this government effectively. Why should the American people send one more dime in taxes to Washington when we won’t reform and manage the money we are already getting from them?

So I am concerned about the nature of these secret talks and the fact that the Senate is really not participating. News reports say that it is only the Speaker and the President of the United States who are negotiating. Apparently the Majority Leader of the Senate is not intimately involved, the Chairman of the Budget Committee is not involved, the Chairman of the Finance Committee is not involved. These are Democratic leaders in the Senate. Certainly Republican leaders are not involved.

The Senate is a great institution, and we ought to be engaged. The engagement of the Senate would allow the American people to know what’s happening. They are entitled to that. I believe we can do better. We must do better.

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