This past week, talking heads were buzzing and fear mongering about the United States of America driving off the “Fiscal Cliff.” At the same time, Washington elites from the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives went behind closed doors to negotiate a secretive legislative deal to avoid the cliff. Even though going off a cliff sounds bad, a deal may be worse.
The so called “Fiscal Cliff” is primarily an expiration of 2001/2003 tax cuts and about $110 billion in domestic and defense cuts all scheduled to hit in January of 2013. In other words, if Congress does nothing during the Lame Duck session, taxes will go up and $55 billion in cuts will be administered to the Department of Defense by the Obama Administration. This is not good.
Details of the secret negotiations have been scarce, yet we know that many Republicans are falling over themselves to raise taxes and undo spending cuts. There is a good chance that some Republican members of Congress will support a tax hike, support an increase in borrowing authority and support a restoration of $110 billion in spending cut. Doing nothing may actually cut spending and save Americans from a massive bipartisan tax hike. Doing nothing may turn out to be a less bad alternative to the deal.
Discussions and deal cutting should be in public. Yet again, the White House and Congressional leaders have secreted themselves behind closed doors for negotiations on an important issue to the American people. This secretive process is similar to the failed process that broke down in late 2011 on the debt ceiling. Our Founding Fathers set up a separation of powers and a bicameral legislature to conduct negotiations in the light of day.
The Senate has yet to schedule any public discussions on legislation to avoid the “Fiscal Cliff.” They are continuing work on “The Sportsman’s Act of 2012,” S. 3525, a controversial gun bill. The National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America are at odds over whether this is good legislation. Roll Call reports that “just when Senate Democrats, the White House and the National Rifle Association finally found legislation they could agree on, opposition from conservatives and a rival gun rights group is delaying passage of a proposal to give hunters and fishermen more access to federal land.”
The NRA argues that the bill is “an essential piece of legislation focused on the expansion and enhancement of hunting, recreational fishing and shooting on federal public land. Gun Owners of America says that “Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) -- who is ‘F’ rated by Gun Owners of America -- is pushing a ‘hunting’ bill that authorizes the Obama administration almost unlimited power to seize private lands for ‘environmental’ purposes.” Furthermore, many conservatives are voting against this bill, because they are not allowed to add pro-Second Amendment amendments to this legislation.
The Defense Authorization bill is expected later this week in the Senate. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is holding up consideration of the bill until he is allowed an amendment to require jury trials for Americans detained in investigations dealing with terrorism.
The House also has yet to embark down the road of fixing the “Fiscal Cliff.” The House is out today, but will be in on Tuesday for six suspension votes, requiring a two-thirds majority of the House, on relatively non-controversial matters. On Wednesday, the House has eight bills scheduled to name federal buildings on the suspension calendar. Later in the week, the House may take up H.R. 6429, the STEM Jobs Act, which is a high skilled immigration bill.
Bottom line is that you, the American people, are being cut out of the “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations on purpose. In the end, you will have little or no say about whether this deal is good or bad, because Congress will make sure this bill is passed within a few days after it is introduced. We can only hope for no deal or a deal that does not expand government and hike taxes too much.