ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: A deal appears imminent between congressional and White House negotiators over a massive stimulus plan -- with the bottom line likely to come in at less than $800 billion.
But don’t expect Republicans to celebrate the cost savings. They’re complaining that despite Democrats’ repeated promises to craft a bipartisan deal, the package has been crafted in its late stages by a tight circle of almost exclusively Democrats.
Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., was appointed to the conference committee charged with ironing out differences between the House and Senate versions. But as Democrats prepared to announce a deal, he said he had been totally shut out of talks.
“In the dead of night, Democrat congressional leaders and White House officials negotiated the almost trillion-dollar stimulus legislation without a scrap of public scrutiny or bipartisan involvement,” Lewis said in a statement today. “I have never before in my 30 years in Congress seen such secrecy and blatant lack of regard for the American public. This begs the question: If the Democrat majority is so proud of this stimulus legislation, what are they hiding from?”
There will be a meeting of the full conference committee today at 3 p.m. ET. But Republicans point out that it will be held mostly for the cameras, with the real negotiations having transpired privately among the White House, the House Speaker’s Office, the Senate Majority Leader’s Office, some committee chairmen and a few key aides and advisers.
The only Republicans involved in most of the talks are the three moderates who voted for the package on the Senate floor. Their votes, of course, are critical to passing the measure.
As ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf points out, back when Democrats were in the minority, they promised open negotiations when they took control of Capitol Hill.
Republicans are also pointing out that such backroom negotiations seem to be at odds with a promise on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Web site.
“Require that all conference committee meetings be open to the public and that members of the conference committee have a public opportunity to vote on all amendments. Make copies of conference reports available to members and post them publicly on the Internet 24 hours before consideration (unless waived by a supermajority vote).”
The private negotiations also don’t seem to fit President Obama’s plan, as outlined on the Change.gov Web site.
“End the Practice of Writing Legislation Behind Closed Doors: As president, Barack Obama will restore the American people's trust in their government by making government more open and transparent. Obama will work to reform congressional rules to require all legislative sessions, including committee mark-ups and conference committees, to be conducted in public. By making these practices public, the American people will be able to hold their leaders accountable for wasteful spending and lawmakers won't be able to slip favors for lobbyists into bills at the last minute.”