The Senate Budget Committee The Senate Budget Committee's top Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, leaves the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 9, 2011. Late Wednesday, the Senate rejected competing Republican and Democratic spending bills in a bit of Capitol theater designed to demonstrate that the combatants must meet somewhere in the middle. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)  

In budget debate, Sessions sees pattern of secret negotiations

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Amanda Carey

While lawmakers continue to call for a budget deal that addresses the country’s growing deficit, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama is taking it one step further by calling for that deal to be negotiated in public.

Sessions, the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the stalled budget process in the Senate. But in an interview with The Daily Caller, Sessions had a different target.

“I acknowledge that people can enter into private discussions to help them form and reach certain compromises, but what we’ve been seeing is a pattern of hugely important issues being negotiated by a very small number of people, then produced to Congress for rapid passage before some emergency event occurs,” said Sessions.

“This is not good legislative work.”

A look back at the Obama administration shows Sessions may have a fair point.

The stimulus bill in February 2009 was worked out by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in closed meetings.

The president’s number-one agenda item upon assuming office was to pass comprehensive health care reform. The bill was negotiated by a few select Democrat congressmen behind closed doors without C-SPAN cameras, then presented to Congress.

And this past spring, the deal that extended the Continuing Resolution and avoided a government shutdown was worked out in private between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker John Boehner, and President Obama. It was then “dropped into the legislative hopper with crisis providing motivation” to pass it or else.

And this past spring Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama privately worked out the deal that extended the Continuing Resolution and avoided a government shutdown. The three politicians then “dropped [it] into the legislative hopper with crisis providing motivation” to pass it or else.

Sessions sees a pattern.

“The whole idea of the American legislative process is that people offer legislation, it’s referred to committee, they take testimony, vote, it goes to the floors and is available for full debate,” he told TheDC. Obama and his negotiating counterparts on Capitol Hill, Sessions added, “want to be able to make proposals in secret and not be held accountable.”

“So when you reach a matter a serious as the debt limit issue, I’d like to know what [Vice President] Biden proposed. I’d like to know how much tax increases they proposed,” the Senator added. “Why don’t they tell us if they think it’s good policy?”

Sessions’ challenge for openness is especially pertinent since news broke Friday that the president held a secret meeting with Speaker Boehner last Wednesday to discuss the debt limit. And Monday, the president will have closed meetings with both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Reid.

But while the president privately discusses deals with congressional leaders, Republicans are still digging in their heels.

On Friday, Boehner reiterated his position that raising taxes as part of a budget deal is a non-starter. And Monday, McConnell penned an op-ed for CNN that essentially said tax increases should be off the table.

In his interview with TheDC, Sessions said that even if the fight over tax increases is settled privately, he is optimistic that the Republican leadership will be able to negotiate an acceptable deal. “I think they’ve done pretty well,” he said.