No Transparency on Debt Ceiling Debate

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For concerned Americans, one of the more infuriating aspects of the current debt ceiling negotiations is the fact that they are filtered through the media lens prior to being made public. Considering the overall slant of the mainstream media, it thus becomes possible to portray Republicans, far more than Democrats, as the intransigent party to these negotiations. Are they? There is certainly an easy way to find out. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has proposed an obvious solution. “We might as well stake it out publicly to see what the disagreements are,” said Sessions in an interview with The Hill on June 24th. Mr. Sessions is absolutely right. It’s time to broadcast the debt ceiling talks on C-SPAN and allow the public to see what’s really going on.

This is not to say that all negotiations among government officials should be made public. But a government of, by and for the people should have no qualms about letting the people see who wants to do what their taxes — along with the taxes of their children and grandchildren. In fact, the president himself, after a reportedly contentious session butting heads with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), promised to take his case “to the American people.” Mr. Cantor claimed the president became “agitated” during the exchange. Yet that version of the story was immediately disputed by Democrats. “The president could not have been more gracious. I have never seen a president spend so much time with the leadership of Congress day in and day out, respectful of their concerns,” said Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Who’s telling the truth? Publicly aired negotiations would allow the American people to decide. Just as publicly aired negotiations would eliminate the ongoing media charade that the only one making substantive policy proposals is the president himself. This particular media meme was revealed for the kind of slanted reporting it truly is in an exchange on PBS’s “Inside Washington” broadcast last Friday night. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer accused a “completely compliant, pliant, supine press [of] accepting every leak out of the White House” with respect to the $4 trillion “grand bargain” that the president has ostensibly offered. When NPR’s Nina Totenberg rose to the president’s defense, Mr. Krauthammer challenged her and other members of the show’s panel to name “a single item in it that you can enunciate.” No one offered anything, and Mr. Krauthammer made the ultimate point. “Well then how does he expect America to accept something in which he explains nothing?” he asked.

The answer to that question is obvious. The president and most of his colleagues fully expect a compliant, supine press to spin these negotiations in their favor. And such spin need not be errors of commission. Downplaying important stories is equally effective. For example, do a majority of Americans know that for the first time since 1974, when the Budget Act was passed to modernize the process, a Democratically-controlled Congress failed to enact a national budget in 2010? Does a majority know it’s been over 800 days since the Senate passed one? Do they know House Republicans passed a budget in April already cutting $4.4 trillion in spending over the next decade, only to see it mothballed in the Senate? Do they know the only budget proposed by the president with an actual number attached to it was a $3.7 trillion debacle so onerous, it was defeated by a unanimous 97-0 vote in the Senate?

The answer, with respect to a majority of Americans, is no. Furthermore, it is expected that the public will remain largely in the dark. This sentiment was best expressed by White House political advisor David Plouffe immediately following the release of June’s dismal employment numbers in which only 18,000 jobs were added to the economy, well below the 90,000 predicted by most economists. “The average American does not view the economy through the prism of GDP or unemployment rates or even monthly jobs numbers,” Plouffe said. “People won’t vote based on the unemployment rate; they’re going to vote based on: ‘How do I feel about my own situation? Do I believe the president makes decisions based on me and my family?'”

Once again, if the budget negotiations were out in the open, Americans could decide for themselves if the president has their collective backs. Such talks would be far superior to the current process, described by the Associated Press as one which “seems to be yielding even more leaks and spin than usual.” The AP also noted that the White House “attempts to limit on-the-record coverage of the meetings,” and that they allow “a small group of reporters to attend the beginning of such meetings, but that only happened in three of the six debt talk meetings.” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the limitations were necessary to prevent a “circus” atmosphere, like the one last Monday where members of the press were shouting out questions.

Yet Jim Manley, former top spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-NV), conceded that such control was next to impossible. “I have been involved in these kinds of meetings during the last two administrations and have never seen such a torrent of leaks from supposed private conversations as I have this time around. It shows that neither side really trusts the other,” he said.

Who do Americans themselves trust? The most accurate answer is neither side. A Quinnipiac University poll seems schizophrenic. By a 56-38 percent margin, Americans disapprove of the way the president is running the economy, even as they trust him to handle it better than Republicans by 45-38 percent. They would also blame Republicans more than the president for failing to reach a debt ceiling deal, 48 percent to 34 percent. And while 67 percent are in favor of “taxing the rich,” including corporations (reflecting the reality that most Americans don’t know corporate taxes get passed on to the consumer), 57 percent of those surveyed think any tax changes would also hurt the middle class.

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  • Supreme_Galooty

    The media is and has been in dereliction of its duty as members of the fourth estate. Their credentials should be revoked. This is NOT a complicated issue. It is a simple issue. Continued over-spending is related to continued debt, but the debt ceiling has no relationship whatsoever to talks of default and missing dole checks.

    Simply lay off 10% of all federal employees across the board with firm assurances that they will never be hired back. Abolish the BLM and sell all of its "managed" land. The opportunities for cutting are myriad. It could be a lot of fun, too. Negotiations are unecessary and are a grand charade in addition to being a waste of time.

    • sad

      The media has no duties whatsoever and are not even required to tell the truth. See the appellate court ruling dealing with Faux news.

  • davarino

    I agree with el supremo. We could do away with at least 10% of federal employees and not even miss them. And the other thing, its funny how the budget always grows no matter the circumstances, good economy, bad economy. I say cut the budget and hold it flat for the forseeable future till real increases are called for.

    • Jim_C

      AND raise taxes on the upper quintiles, right, davarino?

      Y'all know it needs to happen; no one wants to be the one to say it, though.

      • Chezwick_mac

        Wrong. We live under a free enterprise system (or at least we used to). Crippling the investment class with ever-higher taxes will only result in capital flight and a fall-off of economic activity as investors send their money abroad looking for a better return (particularly in a globalized age).

        Lowering the tax-burden for the investor class will a) spur investment and create jobs, generating economic activity and bringing in much-needed revenue to government coffers…b) lower the costs of production, which will make American goods more competitive at home and abroad (higher taxes are passed on as cost increases to consumers, making American goods more expensive and thus reducing their competitiveness).

        It's all economics 101. Funny how liberals – who pride themselves on being so much more sophisticated than their knuckle-dragging, conservative counterparts, understand so little about basic economics.

        • Jim_C

          Have the "job creators"–who have not been adversely affected by the economy–merely been on vacation for the last 10 years? Where have they been? Maybe we should ask them to come back?

          • Chezwick_mac

            No, just the last 5. Until then, they were doing quite nicely.

        • Jim_C

          I love your "ever higher taxes" even as you claim to understand economics.

          So has the upper marginal tax rate trended upward for the last 70 years?

          • Chezwick_mac

            No, but it's about to…if you and Barry have your way.

          • Jim_C

            Then don't say "ever higher taxes" as you did above

            Say "Thank you, President Obama, not for doing what is, after all, inevitable–but for not pretending as if it's not, as me and mine continue to do to the detriment of our country."

          • Chezwick_mac

            No, I'll say:

            "Mr Prez, your determination to raise taxes will strangle economic activity, facilitate the movement of money abroad, will make American goods more expensive and less competitive at home and abroad…and will, in the final analysis, lead to LOWER revenue for government coffers…as you'll be taking a bigger piece of a smaller pie, as opposed to a smaller piece of a bigger pie…if you weren't so obsessed with stoking the flames of class warfare and suffocating the entrepreneurial energies of the investment class."

          • Jim_C

            Tax rates on the upper quintiles are at historic LOWS. So where's the jobs? Obama proposed numerous job and economic stimulus programs–only to have them filibustered into non-passage at an UNPRECEDENTED RATE.

            Fact is, Republicans just don't want things to get better (yet), because that'd make Obama look good. It's there in the record. And it won't be hard to show. It's why Obama will be re-elected, even though he HAS had a relatively mediocre tenure.

            When it comes to spending, I will at least grant you a philosophical point. When it comes to tax increases, though–you have NO point. History and facts already extant prove you wrong.

          • Chezwick_mac

            Sorry friend, history is clearly on MY side.

            JFK cut marginal tax rates in 1961….and generated 5 years of 5.2% growth. Reagan cut marginal tax rates in the 80s and began the longest peace-time expansion in the nation's Post-WW2 history. W cut tax rates and facilitated remarkable job growth from 2002 to 2007.

            As for Obama's stimulus, let me remind you it was PASSED, cost taxpayers over $800 billion….and didn't do squat, precisely because it WASN'T an across-the-board tax cut, but was instead a political slush-fund that went to friendly donors (unions and corporations like GE to produce "green energy"). Surely even an apologist like yourself can concede the 'stimulus' has been a spectacular failure.

            As for the current absence of economic expansion even though the Bush tax-cuts have yet to expire, the reason is two-fold: 1) concern among investors regarding Obamacare, offshore drilling restrictions, and other regulatory impositions…and 2) concern over the unprecedented levels of debt the US is accruing due to Obama's reckless spending.

          • Jim_C

            "Didn't do squat?" It likely prevented another great depression, which would have precipitated global economic collapse, which would have been devastating to our national security. I'd say it worked, effectively if not spectacularly.

            Personally, I would have liked to see 100% of it (as opposed to what, 25%?) spent buying goods and services from the private sector. Jobs, jobs, jobs, and development of a viable American export sector.

          • Chezwick_mac

            Wrong again friend. TARP saved the monetary system and prevented another depression. Obama's stimulus hardly caused a ripple. Your inability to distinguish between the telling.

          • Chezwick_mac

            …between the two is telling.

          • coyote3

            And should be lower yet. There is no "guarantee" that these "upper quintiles", as you call them, will create jobs. They have no "obligation" to do so, even if you reduce their onerous tax burdens. However, by raising their taxes, you will guarantee, that they will be reluctant to create jobs. They should keep more of their money, not so that they can be a WPA, but they should keep more of their money, because it is their money.

          • Jim_C

            If there is no obligation to create jobs, what does it matter if taxes are lower or higher, reluctance or no? As Chezwick points out lack of job creation is more a matter of uncertainty than tax policy.

            Anyway, we can argue the philosophy but raising taxes is inevitable, even Reagan had to do it several times. But what you do with those taxes is another story. (I wouldn't mind seeing another WPA–we're still benefitting from their works). If you can use them to fund infrasturcture, buying goods and services from the private sector–or more specifically, from companies that would have to hire American workers to meet the increased demand.

            Should another stimulus come around I don't see anyone turning it down.

          • thetruth

            Is the marginal rate an effective tool to measure taxation in U.S? Does it count for State, and local taxes as well as rises in Payroll, Gas etc.

          • Chezwick_mac

            Certainly, other taxes such as those you mentioned and tax-loopholes certainly factor in. But the marginal rate, capital gains, and the corporate tax rate are the three that Federal policy-makers have the most latitude in applying.

  • StephenD

    I have an idea. Let's look at a system that actually works. I would nominate what the Governor of Puerto Rico has done. Cut spending AND taxes. Cut Government positions and wasteful programs. Now, though many were pissed off (Government workers that lost their "positions") the numbers reflect that what he did IS WORKING. Lowered taxes and decreased spending has sparked an upturn in the economy there. Why couldn't it work on a larger scale with the national economy? I’d say it’s worth a try.

    • Jim_C

      Cutting spending is something democrats have put on the table. WHERE to cut spending seems to be what they're arguing over.

      • thetruth

        Speech and rhetoric doesn't count as putting something on the table. Currently, the proposed cuts are as real as the Democratic budget for the last two years

    • Chezwick_mac

      Problem is Steve…what you are proposing makes too much sense and is eminently logical.

  • Jim_C

    So far, the only people to put anything on the table have been the democrats. What have Republicans sacrificed? Republicans have turned up their noses at everything; what you're seeing now is the realization that they've overplayed their hand, simply to preach to their own choir.

    • mrbean

      Sacrifice? What a crock of babblespeak post. Democrats are communists with a small "c" that think wealth, all of which starts out private actually belongs to the government. Perhaps culling the democrats is the answer.

      • Jim_C

        Here's my favorite "communist" on that point:

        "The remissness of our people in paying taxes is highly blameable, the unwillingness to pay them is still more so. I see in some resolutions of town-meetings, a remonstrance against giving Congress a power to take as they call it, the “people’s money” out of their pockets though only to pay the interest and principal of debts duly contracted. They seem to mistake the point….All the property that is necessay to a man for the conservation of the individual and the propagation of the species is his natural right, which none can justly deprive him of; but all property superfluous to such purposes is the property of the public, who by their laws have created it, and who may therefore by other laws dispose of it whenever the welfare of the public shall demand such a disposition".

        ~Benjamin Franklin

    • Chezwick_mac

      Obviously, you haven't heard of the Ryan plan (why am I not surprised?)…a very specific blueprint to cut $4trillion in government spending over the next ten years. Dems used it to successfully scare voters in the NY state special election a couple of months ago. Of course, the Dems have offered no plan of their own for deficit reduction….they just play lip-service with no specifics. Cowardice!

  • Len Powder

    "Either way, pubic hearings on the most critical issue facing the nation would be a win-win for the electorate. For a president who once promised Americans he would make his administration the most open and transparent in history, it’s a no-brainer."

    Don't hold your breath!

  • Chezwick_mac