Thursday, February 12, 2009

How Long Did 'Open, Transparent' Last?

Stop Hiding the Stimulus Bill, Paul Blumenthal, Sunlight Foundation, February 14, 2009.

While the House and Senate conferees have agreed on what the stimulus bill will look like in final form, the public may very well have to wait for President Obama to sign it to get a chance to read it. The House rules require that all conference reports (which is how the bill will be reported to the floor) be made publicly available for 48 hours before consideration. Yesterday, the House Rules Committee waived that requirement to allow the House leadership to bring the bill to floor immediately. And we still have not seen the bill, and “we” includes many, many members of Congress.

Elana Schor at TPMDC explains that reporters and congressmen are being denied access to the text of the bill:

Who was excluded from the process? Everyone outside the private negotiating table, regardless of their party. One senior Democratic senator, when I asked him at 6pm last night whether one of his proposals was retained in the final stimulus, replied without blinking that no one knew what was in it yet. This was hours after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had announced the “deal” before TV cameras.

Reporters who asked for a summary of the agreed-upon deal last night were told to wait, because “policy staff … are drafting final bill language tonight,” according to a House Democratic memo. Aside from a top-line number of $789 billion and a battle over school construction, the nitty-gritty details of the stimulus were publicly unavailable.

The House expects to vote on the stimulus bill today! Well, expected is now the more appropriate word. According to CongressDaily Breaking News, House Republicans just claimed on the floor that they have not been allowed to see the bill, to which some Democrats replied that they don’t need to see the bill since the Republicans will vote against it anyway. The Speaker postponed consideration of the bill after this outburst.

But it is not just Republicans who are being denied access to the bill. Reporters, bloggers, and the general public are being denied an opportunity to review one of the most important pieces of legislation sent through Congress in a long time. Anyone who wants should express that, whatever the partisan reasons for denying access to the bill, the American people deserve a right to review this legislation. Slamming it through without letting anyone see, save for 7 or 8 congressmen and some staff, is not fair to the public or the legislative process.

This is a dangerous practice that the Democrats ran against in 2006 and now, in the majority, are unfortunately using to block their opposition’s attacks. The majority Democrats should maintain their previous position on running the most open and honest government by allowing the public to review this legislation. Anything less is unacceptable.

Text Source: Sunlight Foundation

Image Source: Stunned

At The First Press Conference Was Obama Less Than An Artful Dodger?

Obama Came Off As Likeable But Didn't Tell The American People The Whole Sad Truth,Ed Rollins, CNN, February 14, 2009.

President Obama had his first prime-time news conference Monday, and 60 million viewers tuned in. They wanted to hear him and see him in action and hope that things weren't as bad as they were hearing every day from the media and in their hometowns.

He was glib, rambling, a little long-winded and very defensive. But he is a talent and very likeable even when he is being serious. And he had plenty to be serious about. On numerous occasions, he made sure reporters and the millions tuning in knew that he had inherited a mess, the Republicans weren't helping him at all, and things were tough.

After spending hundreds of millions of dollars and traveling thousands of miles over the past two years running for this office, did he think he was going to get the big plane, the big house, the box at the Kennedy Center and Camp David without the heavy lifting? Well, maybe not this heavy a load. This is a president who has promised transparency. He promised that we as a nation will know what our government is doing and what we are spending. Just go to the Internet, and it will be there. But not quite yet. The president gave us a lot of rhetoric on Monday night.

Four million jobs will be created or saved, with 90 percent of them in the private sector. He didn't tell us how. Just trust me, and we will get you out of these tough times. I know a president needs to be a cheerleader sometimes, but right now, I want a truth-teller.

He said, "at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back to life. It is only government that can break the vicious cycle where lost jobs lead to people spending less money which leads to even more layoffs." I ask, what resources does the federal government have? We are broke, too!

Real transparency would have been walking to the podium and saying, "Friends: This thing is a lot worse then I thought. Just like many of you, we are way over our budget. Some of you bought houses you couldn't afford. Many of you spent more money than you made and put the stuff you couldn't afford on your credit cards. The banks were irresponsible, and Wall Street was greedy, but I have to admit to you, the guys and gals over in the Congress have been spending at record rates, too. And they still have a bunch of pet projects they want to spend on, too. That's why this bill got bloated.

"And, oh, by the way, the $800 billion that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid want to spend is money we don't have. The U.S. is broke just like you are, and the banks that I have to borrow from are thousands of miles away in China. We are going to spend $1 trillion-plus more than we take in this year in revenue, and next year it will be $2 trillion. That's on top of the $10.8 trillion that we owe in national debt. "And if you don't think the banks have any money, the Federal Reserve is loaning them trillions."

But he could have closed out that depressing little litany by saying, "Together, we are going to get out of this thing!" Obviously, our new president is still a stranger to us. We like him. Many trust him. We all hope he will succeed. But we don't know a lot about his management style or the people he picked as his team (except that a few of them didn't pay all their taxes.) But in the world of politics, you seldom get a second chance to make a good impression. The president's news conference was the beginning of the selling process. It was a fair performance, and by the end, the stimulus bill designed by Speaker Pelosi and Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey was owned by him.

The new Treasury secretary was the man who was supposed to lay out the plan to rescue the banks the next days. Secretary Tim Geithner's performance Tuesday was a disaster, and his plan was nonexistent. And the market tanked. The Democrats will get their bill, and the president will sign it quickly. More money will have been committed in a shorter period of time than ever in our history. It will be declared a great victory for the new team. And we and our kids will be paying for it for a long time. I hope it works, because there is no money to try again! We will quickly learn whether social engineering really works and whether all these Keynesians are right.

Text Source: Ed Rollins, who was political director for President Reagan, is a Republican strategist who was national chairman of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign.

Image Source: Barry Obama in 1980