Public doesn’t have place at table in debt talks

Negotiations go on behind closed doors

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Vice President Joseph R. Biden and a bipartisan group of six members of Congress met 11 times behind closed doors in May and June to try to broker a deal to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit — the legal limit the federal government can borrow to pay for its operations and debt obligations.

The talks broke down in late June after Republicans complained that Democrats insisted any deal include tax increases on corporations, a position Republicans said they can’t accept.

Republican leaders, meanwhile, have demanded any compromise include spending cuts to equal the amount the debt ceiling is raised — at least $2 trillion.

Time is running out on a getting a deal done, as Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner says the debt limit must be increased by Aug. 2 or the government risks defaulting on its loans, a scenario he says could trigger another financial crisis.

The president met privately last week with Senate party leaders in an attempt to jump-start the negotiations. More meetings are expected.

Because the two parties are so far apart, Mr. West said it’s probably smart they hash out a basic framework in private first before debating the details later in a more public venue.

“They’re not writing legislation [now], they’re debating various policy principles,” he said. “I think there will be more transparency when we get to the legislative phase and are actually drafting legislation and voting on the bill.”

GOP negotiators also would find it difficult to discuss tax increase options in a public venue without risking a revolt from the dozens of Republican freshmen in Congress aligned with the conservative tea party movement and its ‘no new taxes at any cost’ mantra.

“Where you’re really asking people to make some concessions that potentially could enrage their own party bases and could put them in serious jeopardy, but also you want to talk about ways you might want to soften the blow, cushion things, find a way to make it look a little better, you’ve got to do that in private,” said Norm Ornstein, a congressional expect with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative-leaning Washington think tank.

“Those kinds of things, as you try to craft components and put them together, are almost impossible to do in public.”

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