The Senate is the Problem


The late night drama cast Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden as heroes. They did what Obama and Boehner failed to do, come together on an agreement to limit the bite of the fiscal cliff’s tax hikes. That agreement led to bipartisan Senate action. But the appearance of the Senate coming to the rescue obscures the fact the Senate has recklessly refused to act for months, sitting on the House-passed bill to avert the tax hikes, H.R.8, for fully five months before jamming a massive amendment through when there was no time to consider any changes, or even fully understand its provisions. With another looming deadline coming March 1 when the postponed sequestration spending cuts take effect and the country approaches the debt ceiling, the Senate cannot be allowed to again wait until the last minute and then cut a backroom deal.

The House passed H.R.8 on August 1 on a bipartisan vote of 256 to 171 to postpone all of the “fiscal cliff” tax hikes for one year and set in place a process for fundamental tax reform in 2013. The Senate refused to act on the bill for 152 days before taking the bill up in the dead of night, substituting its own amendment in by unanimous consent, and then voting on a compromise than can only be described as deeply flawed.

Had the Senate passed the same amendment a month earlier, there would have been time to appoint conferees and work out a better final product for the American people. There could have been further debate and amendments in the light of day. But it was Senate’s five months of obstinance that was ultimately rewarded by creating an opportunity for them to force the House into a deadline-driven, take-it-or-leave vote in the House.

This wasn’t the first time the Senate behaved this way. In fact it’s the third year in a row the Senate refused to act until the last minute before ultimately jamming its own vision on taxes and spending through a House up against a hard deadline. They have effectively cut the American people out of the process by replacing open debate and amendment with secret backroom negotiations.

This same Senate has not even passed a budget in nearly four years. Under Harry Reid, the Senate has elevated doing nothing until the night before each crisis deadline to an art form.

Now we’re immediately up against another deadline. The automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as the sequester were postponed two months until March 1. Around the same time, the Treasury will exhaust its extraordinary measures to finance ongoing government spending under the existing debt limit. The House is likely to move quickly on these issues, but the Senate has a strong incentive to wait until the last minute again before unveiling an emergency backroom deal.

Given the stakes, Senate stalling for political advantage cannot continue to be accepted by the American people. The tax debate took place in secret right up until and past the deadline. We must demand better in the upcoming spending debate, which should occur in the light of day.

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