We Need Transparency in Govt

Tuesday, 05 Jul 2011 02:57 PM

By Ernest Istook

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Our future should not be determined behind closed doors. Yet that’s where the White House and Congress are holding secret talks about our debt ceiling and about taxes and spending.

We deserve openness instead. We don’t need another farce when the players suddenly burst from their huddle, line up members of Congress, and rush through their plan on a quick count.

The two keys are first, frequent and detailed progress reports from the now-secret talks, and second, ample time for review of any agreement.

We’ve been told that participants supposedly agree on how to save $1-trillion. But they’ve given zero details. Their $1-trillion claim is suspect because they could be planning political gimmicks rather than true and immediate spending cuts.

In addition to ending the secrecy, we need complete and thorough disclosure of any agreement well in advance of any votes. Those who don’t do their work on time should not claim that things have become too urgent to give us time to study and discuss their agreement.

President Barack Obama has slow-walked things and made them worse by distancing himself until late in the process. Sadly, Obama often dodges big issues by asking a commission to study them, or more typically by passing the buck to Vice-President Joe Biden.

President Truman’s famous “The Buck Stops Here” sign belongs in the Oval Office, not on the vice-president’s desk.

But President Obama doesn’t deserve all the blame. The House of Representatives did its job and passed a budget plan on time this year, accepting the controversy that went with it. But the Senate has not passed a budget for almost 800 days.

Congresswoman Anne Marie Buerkle, R, N.Y., keeps a running clockon her website, showing how long it’s been since the Senate did its duty. She’s introduced the “Just Do Your Job Act” to deny paychecks to the Senate Budget Committee and to Senate leaders who aren’t getting their work done.

This Senate and White House foot-dragging is a tired old Washington game to create a sense of urgency. Then that urgency is used to rush a last-minute proposal through Congress before the public knows the all-important details.

Congress has made 72 hours their minimum acceptable time frame for legislation to be available before voting. This should be the complete and final details, not just outlines or drafts of proposals. Under no circumstances should that minimum 72 hours be waived or reduced. Additional time would be better because every extra day and hour will reduce the ability to slip things past the public.

Senators Jeff Sessions, R, Ala., and Orrin Hatch, R, Utah, wrote President Obama this weekend to urge him to protect the public’s right to know. First, they asked for full details of what’s being discussed in secret, including “the most recent version of the proposals that were discussed, including a list of any tax increases for which the White House reportedly advocated.”

Sessions and Hatch also urge that any deal not be rushed. They request that time be allowed for full analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, for congressional hearings on any proposal, and most importantly for the American public to know and review the details.

As they wrote to Obama, “Too often, we’ve heard promises of cutting spending and fiscal reform that have been empty and filled with gimmicks. That cannot happen again. A last-minute deal, delivered under the threat of panic, will not be acceptable.”

Sessions has added his request that the full details of any proposal be available to lawmakers for seven days before they are asked to vote on it.

Ample time is important. Can anyone recall when any rushed-through plan ever lived up to its hype?

The country deserves not only an open negotiation process, with detailed status reports, but also plenty of time to review any agreement. The current sense of urgency is no excuse to replace today’s crisis with a new set of enormous problems.

The public deserves to know everything that’s being proposed in talks, and whatever may be included in a deal, with every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed. No last-minute additions, no pork-barrel and no favors to buy votes.

It’s time to end the wall of secrecy. President Obama, tear down this wall!

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