Saturday, December 29, 2012

#363 / Secret Budgets
The image above comes from a blog entry published by the North Carolina Justice Center. The Justice Center is opposed to secret budgets. So is United States Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican who represents Alabama, and who is the ranking minority member of the Senate Budget Committee. Sessions has authored an editorial column in the December 12, 2012 edition of The Wall Street Journal "We Can't Fix the Budget in Secret."

I think Sessions' column is essentially correct. I would quibble with a few things. For instance, I don't think it is helpful to call Harry Reid's leadership on budget issues "craven." I also don't think that "consensus" ought to be the goal of budget deliberations, as Sessions seems to imply at one point in his article. A "decision," yes. "Consensus?" Unlikely, and probably not even desirable. 

The main point that Sessions makes, however, is right on target, at least in my opinion: 

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. 

That comparison of the United States Senate to the Russian Duma is telling. We can't have "self-government" unless we get involved ourselves, and the prime requisite for public involvement is public information. We can't be involved in debating the questions if we don't know what the questions really are. 

More and more, we seem to act as thought it is perfectly appropriate for our elected representatives to make fundamental decisions about government without public involvement or public debate, whether that means secret budget decisions, or secret decisions to fire rockets at people that the President has decided ought to die.

Credit where credit it due. Senator Sessions got it right.

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