November 29 2012

President Obama’s Secret Fiscal Cliff Meetings

Emily Wismer

It seems the President finally has responded to criticism (I chimed in on these complaints) that the representatives of the banking and finance sectors were deliberately excluded from fiscal cliff talks earlier this month.

There’s one significant problem: When the President did meet with business leaders from these sectors the meetings were in secret. President Obama met secretly with roughly a dozen business leaders in finance to talk about how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff and into a recession. So much for transparency.

Who was invited? The guest list is interesting. According to Bloomberg, most of the attendees were President Obama’s top campaign donors and buddies:

Many of the participants at the Nov. 16 meeting have been among Obama’s staunchest supporters on Wall Street and top campaign donors.

The group included Blackstone Group LP (BX) President Tony James; Evercore Partners Inc. (EVR) chairman Roger Altman; Robert Wolf, chief executive officer of 32 Advisors LLC; Centerbridge Capital Partners LLC managing principal Mark Gallogly; Glenn Hutchins, co-founder of Silver Lake Management LLC; Marc Lasry, founder of Avenue Capital Group LLC; Blair Effron, co-founder of Centerview Partners LLC; and Orin Kramer, general partner at Boston Provident Partners LP, according to administration officials and a participant in the session.

The President failed to seek counsel from those who are most likely to give him fresh information and new perspectives. Instead, he stuck with the advisors whom he knows are politically safe. We’d say that the meeting was used for window dressing, except that there’s no such thing as clandestine window dressing.

The meeting was not announced on the President’s schedule, nor was it announced by the administration. Was President Obama really worried how he would appear if he consulted business leaders?

The President seems to have gone out of his way to snub members of these sectors, unless they have raised or contribute to his campaign, and won’t listen to new ideas. Not good omens for setting the country’s financial house in order.

According to Senator Jeff Sessions, secret meetings in general have stunted solving difficult problems: "Over the last two years, Congress and the President have held an endless series of secret negotiations... But the only thing these secret talks have produced is a government that skips from one crisis to the next."

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