Rough Beginnings for the 112th Congress

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Washington, DC, January 21, 2011 | comments
Regardless of how you feel about the 2010 elections, it brought two ideas to the forefront that we can all agree on: increased transparency in government and getting our fiscal house in order.
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Published in The Oregonian on January 21, 2011.

Regardless of how you feel about the 2010 elections, it brought two ideas to the forefront that we can all agree on: increased transparency in government and getting our fiscal house in order.

Republican leaders said all the right things entering the 112th Congress and, as a moderate Democrat, I was looking forward to working with them to make government more open and our budget more responsible.

To their credit they have followed through on some of them:

Committee agendas are now posted seven days in advance and every bill is available at least 24 hours prior to a hearing.

I also appreciate their commitment to post the outcome of every committee hearing 24 hours later and the implementation of a more defined schedule so votes do not conflict with committee or constituent meetings.

Unfortunately, our new majority leadership seems to pick and chose when to abide by those principles. They promised every bill would go through the committee process and be open to amendments. But they seem intent on waiving that rule when it's politically convenient.

In fact the health care reform legislation that elicited the most concern from the public about input and process over the last two years is the first, of what I fear will be many, exceptions to the open process. This week the House passed a bill repealing that law that came to the floor without a single committee hearing and with no opportunity for amendments.

Transparency and open governance are critical to restoring the trust of Oregonians, and Americans, in our government. Both parties have been guilty of closed-door governance in the past. But the hypocrisy of the new Republican majority is palpable given their campaign promises.

The new majority also seems less interested in living up to their rhetoric on fiscal responsibility. They are already gutting the "pay-as-you-go" rules that moderate Democrats and Republicans fought so hard to pass last year.

If we're going to be serious about paying down our debt, we must stop continually maxing out our credit card. That's why "paygo" – a commitment to pay for every piece of legislation – is so critical. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, repealing the health care law would increase the deficit by $230 billion in the first 10 years and by almost a trillion dollars over the following 10 years.

Rapidly escalating health care costs, especially in Medicare, are a major part of our country's out-of-control debt problems. I understand the differing opinions on the health care bill, but let's at least maintain the fiscal discipline we started. Our nation's economic recovery is dependent on it.

But the hypocrisy doesn't end there. Like the Bush years, this Congress is attempting to play games with war funding to prevent it from counting toward the deficit.

The new Republican majority has also given the new Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan, unilateral power to ignore the nonpartisan CBO and just develop his own set of numbers. This is not a good way to start a new bipartisan process for transparency and fiscal responsibility.

I hope this is not a return to the Bush spending policies and a complete reneging on the opening up of the democratic process that showed so much promise in the lead-up to this current session.

As a moderate Democrat I stand ready to work with my Republican colleagues to set a new tone of fairness and transparency that builds America's confidence in their Congress and thereby generates more confidence in our nation's economic recovery.

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