C-SPAN the fiscal-cliff talks

The First World War was begun because of incompetent statesmanship by leaders who did not want a war but blundered into one. The fiscal-cliff fiasco can only happen if leaders in Washington continue the same mistakes that have plagued the capital for far too long and blunder into an economic crash they do not want.

Given the limited time and momentous issues surrounding the fiscal-cliff discussions, I propose that first, Congress enact a 30- to 45-day cooling-off "punt"; second, that Senate leaders be brought into the center of the fiscal-cliff talks; and third, that a major round of fiscal-cliff talks be conducted in public and broadcast live on C-SPAN.

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Today the state of play is that great issues are being decided on short notice in an atmosphere of nonstop all-party posturing, through secret meetings with limited participants, with closed-door backroom "deal-making,” with the American people frustrated and dissatisfied, consumers worried about their family budget, business leaders worried about core financial issues that affect their investments and hiring, and ratings agencies worried about the core competence, professionalism and good faith of the executive and legislative branches of government.

Imagine what would happen if a road was being built and all of the workers stood around doing nothing while they argued about who would pick up the shovel. Imagine what would happen if a football team stayed in the huddle for an hour without running a play because the coaches could not decide whether to run or pass. Imagine what would happen if a Major League Baseball manager fielded a team with only seven starting players while the catcher (named Reid) and the first baseman (named McConnell) stayed on the bench.

American taxpayers are today paying politicians in Washington to stand around and posture, and the longer time is wasted, the more irrational and incompetent the ultimate solution is likely to be.

If there is no dramatic negotiating breakthrough very soon, I would propose that the president and congressional leaders pull the plug on the current process and address these matters the American way, which is to respect ALL of the voters enough to bring them into the center of the process by bringing the major negotiating players into a room and conducting a serious and intelligent discussion of great issues live on C-SPAN.

1. Senate leaders should not be excluded from the process. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and the minority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), are skilled negotiators and legislators who should be at the center of the process.

My guess is that bringing in Reid and McConnell would help facilitate an agreement because it would broaden the GOP to include Senate Republicans and give House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and McConnell more negotiating flexibility than Boehner has alone.

2. The House minority leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), should also be brought into the center of the process because first, her principled progressive voice deserves a seat at the big table, and second, her leadership would be profoundly helpful in winning liberal and Democratic support for a compromise so long as she is present at the takeoff as well as the landing.

3. Let’s try some American representative democracy and televise talks between Obama, Boehner, Reid, McConnell and Pelosi on C-SPAN to discuss these great matters issue by issue, in public and in view of all of the American people and all of the members of the House and Senate.

I hope there is a dramatic breakthrough that leads to a fiscal-cliff agreement enacted in time to meet the current deadline. This is still possible, but:

There is now a real chance of a negotiating debacle or a half-baked pseudo-solution that does not address the real problem and is enacted on short notice in a bill that many members do not read, with policy changes that many members do not fully understand.

Therefore, just in case, I propose Plan B, which would postpone the deadline for 30 to 45 days and bring the American people into a serious, thoughtful, respectful public discussion of big solutions on momentous matters.

Washington should not be treating momentous matters with banana-republic procedures.

The American people deserve a government that acts like a great nation standing for representative democracy that governs of, by, for and with the knowledge and consent of the people.