Senators from both parties are frustrated that the upper chamber has no representative in the talks to strike a deal on reducing the deficit.
The negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists bounce back under Trump Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Chaffetz won't run for reelection MORE (R-Ohio) have left out a legislative body filled with big egos and type-A personalities.
The standing joke about the Senate is that each of its 100 members sees a potential president when he or she looks in the mirror. It’s a chamber full of ambitious leaders who crave a chance to have an impact on the nation’s future.
“I would like everything to be more public, always,” said Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallSenate Dems want Trump to release ethics waivers, visitor logs Dem senator: Congress should force White House to publish visitor logs Senate Dems offer bill to restore internet privacy rules MORE (D-N.M.).
Udall said when former President Reagan and Congress tackled broad tax and spending reforms in the 1980s, “there were always many more people involved, chairmen and committee members called to the White House talks.”
“We’re better off always doing that,” he said.
Senators on both sides of the aisle fear Obama and Boehner will reach a deal shortly before the end of the month and stick them with a take-it-or-leave-it vote to avoid the fiscal cliff, which economists warn could send the nation back into recession if Congress fails to act.
“There’s no transparent, democratic process at all —just a few people in a room — which I think they’ll intentionally draw out until the last day and then drop on us so there’s no time for debate, not only to keep us out of it but to keep the American people out of it,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
“It’s a very bad process and we shouldn’t be doing it,” he added. “It’s very frustrating.”
Some senators have worked feverishly to have an influence on the talks. Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerSo what if banks push fancy cards? Give consumers the steak they want Five questions for the House's new Russia investigator Why an independent counsel is necessary in an election probe MORE (D-Va.) has met with a small group of Republican colleagues for months to build consensus around a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan.
Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerGroups warn of rural health 'crisis' under ObamaCare repeal Ringing the alarm in Congress: 20 million lives at risk due to famine Senators want more efficient way to get food aid to Africa MORE (R-Tenn.) drafted a 242-page bill to reform entitlement programs and on Wednesday proposed legislation to swap nearly $1 trillion in mandatory spending cuts for an equal increase in the debt ceiling.
But there’s little evidence Obama or Boehner have noticed.
George Washington first described the Senate as a cooling saucer; the Founding Fathers envisioned it carefully deliberating on legislation from the House before the president signed it into law. Senators today grumble they have been almost entirely cut out of one of the most important policy discussions of the era.
“There won’t be any time to cool because they’ll wait until the last minute and pop [a deal] on us and say if we don’t vote for it, the whole country is going to collapse under the fiscal cliff,” said DeMint, who recently announced he will leave the Senate to head the Heritage Foundation.
Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsDem lawmaker to Sessions: 'You are a racist and a liar' Top Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms DNC chairman slams Sessions for deportation comments MORE (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, says he has no sense of the direction of the talks.
“We around here are speculating about what’s going on in secret negotiations between the Speaker of the House and the president of the United States and the Senate might as well be fishing somewhere,” he said. “Senators talk and pontificate and we have little discussions but I don’t see any of that really impacting the negotiations.”
Senators realize they can’t all be included in private negotiations, but think their respective leaders, at least, should have a bigger role.
“I’m supposed to be making decisions; I haven’t given my proxy to Speaker Boehner,” Sessions said.
“Obviously, [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellFive fights for Trump’s first year Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road AACR’s march on Washington MORE (R-Ky.) is] our leader and I think he has a lot to bring to those discussions and hopefully at some point they’ll allow him to be more engaged in that regard,” said Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioTop Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms Rubio defends Trump: 'This whole flip-flop thing is a political thing' Rubio: Shutdown would have 'catastrophic impact' on global affairs MORE (R-Fla.).
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said he does not know what’s happening in the Obama-Boehner meetings and added Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidWarren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 'Tuesday Group' turncoats must use recess to regroup on ObamaCare Dem senator says his party will restore 60-vote Supreme Court filibuster MORE (D-Nev.) should be at the table.
“I’d always like to see Harry Reid at the table,” agreed Sen. Tom HarkinTom HarkinDistance education: Tumultuous today and yesterday Grassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream MORE (D-Iowa).
Reid was not pleased with his limited role in the 2011 debt-limit talks. At one point, he berated then-White House Budget Director Jack LewJack LewWhite House divide may derail needed China trade reform 3 unconventional ways Trump can tackle the national debt One year later, the Iran nuclear deal is a success by any measure MORE for not keeping him in the loop: “I’m the Senate majority leader — why don’t I know about this deal?”
Harkin said he understands that it will be easier to reach a deal if the negotiations are conducted primarily between Obama and Boehner. He accepts the structure of the talks, but says the Senate will have to review the deal before it’s finalized.
“At some point when they are basically through, before they shake hands, I would expect the Senate to at least converse with the leadership, to sit down with leadership and say, ‘Here’s the outline of the plan,’ ” Harkin said.
House Democrats acknowledge they are also in the dark.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, told reporters Tuesday that they know as much as he does about the developments.
“I wish I knew more than you did about the negotiations,” he said. “I don’t.”
The closed nature of the negotiations could produce an unwelcome surprise — both for left-wing and right-wing senators— when a deal finally becomes public.
A group of liberal Democratic senators have vowed to oppose any deal that raises the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, a reform Obama did not rule out during an interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters.
“That’s a nonstarter for me,” said Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerAnother day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs Carly Fiorina 'certainly looking at' Virginia Senate run Top Obama adviser signs with Hollywood talent agency: report MORE (D-Calif.). “I’ll tell you why: It’s very costly to Medicare, because when you take the healthiest people out, the costs on everybody else go up. There will be increases in their premiums.”
Boxer said she would prefer to go over the fiscal cliff rather than support a bad deal.
Meanwhile, DeMint and Rubio have indicated they would oppose a deal that increases taxes.
“I continue to say that the best way to generate more revenue for government is through economic growth, through more taxpayers, not through more taxes,” said Rubio.