Sunrise (4/13/11)

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PUBLIC CUT OUT OF BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS

Sunlight: “This week’s rushed and hollow congressional proceedings, as disappointing as they are, are really a natural extension of the budget negotiations train wreck we’ve been watching for years. The rank and file members of both the House and Senate have handed power to the Speaker and Majority Leader, a situation only made worse by last year’s lack of a budget, and the ideologically charged brinksmanship that is characteristic of a budget fight played out during a divided government. … A very small number of political leaders have ended up with startling control over the country’s priorities, and the public has been left piecing together what is happening well after it’s been decided. The proverbial “table” of viable options (“on the table,” “off the table”) has somehow ended up in the back room. … If we continue to accept this manner of negotiations as standard operating procedure, this is what we’re going to get, for the 2012 budget, the debt ceiling, and probably everything else. While it’s difficult to force all of any negotiation to be public, we’ve got to be able to do better than this. Is it really the same President who once promised healthcare negotiations would be on C-SPAN that is now enforcing gag orders and non-disclosure agreements on the most far-reaching of public policies? … The same politicians that decried last year’s legislative initiatives as too sweeping, too secretive, or “rammed through” have negotiated a package that amends all of those initiatives, in private. Congress is left as an antiquated afterthought, a bygone conclusion, a formality.”

LOBBYISTS WIN PROVISIONS IN BUDGET BATTLE

NYT: “At a quarter till midnight last Friday, with a deal to avert a government shutdown barely an hour old, Senator Harry Reid phoned a fellow Democratic senator, Ron Wyden, at home and startled him with some bad news. “You lost free-choice vouchers,” Mr. Wyden recalls Mr. Reid telling him. … Even delivered in shorthand, the call’s meaning was clear to Mr. Wyden: a health care plan he had succeeded in getting passed months earlier despite furious lobbying by big business and labor had been pulled out of the blue and killed as part of the broader budget deal struck between the White House and Congress. What was most perplexing was that it had little to do with budgets or government shutdowns. … Mr. Wyden said that regardless of who brought it up in the White House-Congressional negotiations, he suspects that the group driving the elimination of his plan was the Business Roundtable, a powerful lobbying force made up of chief executives from the country’s biggest companies. The Roundtable, which spent more than $8.2 million lobbying on a range of health care and financial issues last year, had come out strongly against the idea of letting employees pick their own insurance plans. … But even as Mr. Wyden was looking for ways on Tuesday to revive his voucher plan, the Business Roundtable was announcing a separate agreement with the Obama administration to sign on to a “Partnership for Patients Pledge” intended to show commitment to health care.”

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