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Sessions on Secret 'Fiscal Cliff' Negotiations: 'The Senate Now Operates Like the Russian Duma'

9:22 AM, Dec 12, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Senator Jeff Sessions continues to argue against the secrecy of the ongoing "fiscal cliff" negotiations with an op-ed this morning in today's Wall Street Journal. Sessions argues that the secrecy is inherently anti-Democratic, and similar to the "Russian Duma, where officials meet behind closed doors, put out the word, and the overwhelming votes materialize."

US Capitol Building at night Jan 2006

"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," Sessions's op-ed begins.

"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."

Sessions then suggests it's an anti-Democratic procedure. "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," he writes.

Instead, we have seen an endless series of secret conclaves: gangs of six, committees of 12, meetings at the White House, at Blair House, in the Capitol’s labyrinth of hallways and hideaways. Meetings everywhere but in the committee room and the open air of the Senate floor.

No one denies that good people have been trying hard, but what have all these secret talks produced? Temporary fixes, stopgap measures and another set of emergency deadlines. One wise observer has said that the Senate now operates like the Russian Duma, where officials meet behind closed doors, put out the word, and the overwhelming votes materialize. Today in Washington—where we’re faced with the consequences of our last secret deal, the Budget Control Act of 2011—the next round of secret meetings and hushed negotiations is under way.

Members of the Senate must reassert their chamber’s historic role as the national institution where the great challenges of our time are debated, clarified and ultimately resolved in public view. Unfortunately, Majority Leader Harry Reid has executed a brilliant partisan strategy of protecting his members from public accountability by avoiding the public workings of the legislative process.

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