Lawmakers Take Matters Into Their Own Hands

Secret Negotiations on Debt Limit Increase

Last week, Vice President Joe Biden headed a bipartisan meeting on the debt—a closed-door one.  Just like the five before it.

These meetings are an effort to find common ground for the House and Senate to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Aug. 2.  The American public, however, has not been allowed to watch these negotiations.  For Republicans and Democrats to exclude the American people from these meetings is outrageous.

The negotiations include Biden, Senators Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.), Max Baucus (D.-Mont.) and Daniel Inouye (D.-Hawaii), and House members Eric Cantor (R.-Va.), Jim Clyburn (D.-S.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D.-Md.).  It is widely expected that if these members do cut a deal, they will release the details close to the Aug. 2 deadline.

Sen. Kyl gave Congressional Quarterly a glimpse into the negotiations when he said that a deal may include “$2.4 trillion in budget reductions over the next decade or longer” in exchange for a $2.4 trillion increase in the debt limit.

Our nation is founded on the idea of the consent of the governed.  Participation by the American people is a continuous process, and the First Amendment to the Constitution allows them to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Americans can’t be involved in the process when they are deliberately shut out.

It is clear any deal on rasing the debt ceiling won’t provide sufficient time for town hall meetings, constituent meetings, open hearings, public debate and a markup of the deal in committee.  This deal will simply be stuffed down the throat of the American people without any regard for their wishes.

War Powers

The House and Senate are debating the power of the Obama administration to wage war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.  The House Defense Authorization bill, HR 1540, contains a provision that changes the 2001 law that the Bush administration relied on to use force in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The House provision affirms that the U.S. is in armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and associated forces, and gives the President the power to detain individuals who are part of those organizations or helping them.  Senate Democrats and the President are pushing back on that legislation.  The Senate is close to scheduling a debate on the conflict in Libya.  Senators Jim Webb (D.-Va.) and Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.) are pushing for a vote on a resolution requiring the Obama administration to formally request authorization from Congress to continue the war in Libya.  The House has already passed a resolution demanding that the Obama administration report to Congress on the specific objectives of the U.S. military involvement in Libya.

Leon Panetta

CIA Director Leon Panetta has been nominated and confirmed to be Secretary of Defense.  Many conservatives worry that he will use his expertise as former chairman of the House Budget Committee and director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Bill Clinton to radically slash the defense budget.

The President has declared his intent to cut defense spending by $400 billion over the next 12 years.  If Panetta is being installed as secretary of defense to cut out missile defense and impose cuts that would harm national security, senators should pause before rubber-stamping another nomination by President Obama.

Schumer-Alexander Nominations Bill

Senators Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) and Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.) have teamed up to craft the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011.  This legislation reduces the number of presidential appointments subject to Senate confirmation.  Instead of changing the law, though, it would make more sense for individuals in the executive branch to do a better job of getting nominations to the Senate quicker, and for senators to speed up the nominations process.

Many of the positions covered in the legislation are very important transparency offices, and a lack of a confirmation process will lead to a more secretive federal government and a spike in cronyism in the executive branch.  This idea will grant more power to the Executive Branch at the expense of the Senate’s constitutional duty to “advise and consent” to nominations.

Patent Reform

Section 18 of the Patent Reform bill is becoming controversial.  Some worry that this provision gives banks and the financial services sector too much power over the validity of patents.  Patent law is very confusing.  Therefore the House of Representatives should carefully study this provision before consenting to a massive rewrite of our nation’s intellectual property laws.

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