Should the ‘super committee’ hold its meetings in secret?

Chris Moody

Members of the new commission tasked with finding $1.2 trillion to cut from the nation's debt could end up making many of their decisions in the same way the "super committee" was created: completely out of public view.

The bipartisan, bicameral committee of 12 yet-to-be-determined-lawmakers has until Nov. 23 to hash out the details for a 10-year debt reduction package that Congress must vote on before Christmas. If they don't, a "trigger" will set in that reduces projected government spending by more than $1 trillion across the board.

When The Ticket reported last week that the "super committee" lacked rules requiring the meetings to be held in public view, we heard from several readers who were furious at the possibility of more Washington backroom dealmaking with public funds. But now there is a bipartisan push to ensure the process is made public.

A group of Republican senators were the first lawmakers to call for openness in the super-committee room. The day after lawmakers struck a deal to raise the debt ceiling, six Republicans sent a letter to Senate leaders urging them to set rules forcing the committee to hold meetings in public view.

"If our colleagues wish to raise taxes or propose spending cuts, the American people have a right to see that process unfold," the letter, sent to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, read. "We ask you, as two of the appointers of the Committee, to ensure that all meetings and hearings are done in a transparent manner through advanced public notification, public attendance and live television broadcasts."

The push for transparency received a major boost Friday when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for similar rules. As leader, Pelosi is one of four in Congress who will choose who sits on the committee.

"The work of this Committee will affect all Americans, and its deliberations should be open to the press, to the public and webcast," Pelosi said in a statement, echoing the senators. "Any acceptance of the Committee proposal will be dependent on the ability of the American people to fully view its proceedings."

At the forefront of the calls for transparency are worries over the clout that special interests could wield in influencing the committee's decisions, which could be avoided, some argue, if committee members are forced to disclose their campaign donations on an ongoing basis during their time on the panel.

Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter introduced a bill requiring all members of the committee to report their campaign donations over $1,000 every 48 hours during their time on the panel.

"Given the important work this committee will be doing over the next four months, it's just plain good government for the public to know what special interests are trying to influence the committee," Vitter said.

Several transparency advocacy groups are backing the calls for transparency with their own recommendations.

The Sunlight Foundation's list includes:

• Live webcasts of all official meetings and hearings

• Arranging to post the committee's report for 72 hours prior to a final committee vote

• Disclosure of every meeting held with lobbyists and other powerful interests

• Disclosure of campaign contributions as they are received (on their campaign websites)

• Financial disclosures of committee members and staffers

It's worth noting that all of the major deals brokered in Washington over the past nine months--extending the Bush-era tax rates, avoiding a government shutdown, and now the debt deal--were negotiated in private before Congress voted on them.

Do you think this time should be different? Let us know in the comments.