- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Senate fancies itself the world’s greatest deliberative body. Perhaps it was once, but today’s most pressing issue - how to resolve the nation’s debt crisis - is not the subject of a serious floor discussion. Since May, the task has been relegated to a handful of top leaders meeting privately to nail down the details of a final deal. This leaves the rest of Congress - not to mention the American public - out of the loop.

Some of the upper chamber’s newest additions succeeded Tuesday in bringing deliberation back into style. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid failed to secure the votes needed to change the subject to Libya after GOP upstarts insisted on forcing the spending issue into the spotlight.

“I think this debate should occur out from behind closed doors, in the light of day, as the Founding Fathers intended,” Sen. Ron Johnson told The Washington Times in an interview before the scheduled vote. “The reason that we have a House and Senate is to debate these issues openly so that the public can engage and make their opinions heard about our nation’s fiscal future.”

The Wisconsin Republican used the filibuster last week to force the issue, but Mr. Reid employed a procedural maneuver to shut him down. Mr. Johnson told The Washington Times that he will continue to “object to this process if they want to drop a grand solution in our laps.”

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, had promised a filibuster this week if the Democratic leader tried to change the subject from the debt to any other issue. The other Republican freshmen leading this effort include Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

Mr. Reid’s theatrics are transparently political. After President Obama slammed Congress last week for taking a recess during the debt talks, the Nevada Democrat changed the schedule and forced senators to cancel town halls and other state-based events. This further limited the public’s input on the issue. And since 98 of the senators aren’t part of the negotiations, their physical presence in Washington is irrelevant.

“The Democrats are playing a game of political chicken,” Mr. Johnson said. “They say, ‘Show us what you want to cut in spending, then we can demagogue and use against you for 2012.’” Mr. Johnson’s strategy is to force the Senate to take up a “cut, cap, balance” bill instead of the debt-ceiling deal.

Mr. Reid’s plan on Thursday is to have a vote on a nonbinding resolution on “shared sacrifice” - liberal code for tax increases.

Washington decisions are made behind closed doors now because it’s easier to sell out principles when nobody is looking. Nuanced deals are hashed out to enable all sides to claim victory. Usually the final product is then rushed through Congress with no time allowed for reflection or analysis, as happened with Obamacare and the last budget deal.

With trillions of taxpayer dollars at stake, the debt-ceiling process needs to be transparent. The public deserves to know what programs Republicans want to slash and what taxes Mr. Obama and Mr. Reid are going to the mat to increase. It’s fitting that one day after celebrating our nation’s independence, Senate freshmen lead a minirebellion to bring us closer to our Founding Fathers’ ideal.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.