Supercommittee Subterfuge

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We’ve officially entered a new phase in the supercommittee negotiations.

Just as yesterday’s public hearing was being held, news was breaking of plans and counter-plans being proposed by supercommittee members. Just like the negotiations over the debt limit that led us here, we’ve entered the phase where anonymous quotes and accusations are reported alongside vague outlines of what we’re told are serious plans. Unfortunately, we haven’t actually seen any plans.

The press, starved of real content to ground their coverage, is reduced to “Exclusive” accounts of private conversations. Without real plans that are proposed by real Members of Congress who vouch for them, though, what we’re really dealing with are policy table scraps. When two parties are negotiating, we should assume that anonymously sourced “packages” and “counteroffers” represent what the parties want us to know about their ideas, far more than they represent their actual ideas. Indeed, if these “packages” were really offers and counteroffers, wouldn’t we be able to link to an official source?

Does nobody in the supercommittee have access to a scanner, laptop, or camera?

They even had a prime opportunity to discuss their “ideas” in yesterday’s supercommittee meeting. Unfortunately, somehow the new ideas never came up. Apparently the supercommittee members had been instructed to avoid actually discussing the substance of their proposals, even as the details were leaked to one press outlet after another.

So we’re left reading one account of the supposed “proposals”, with accompanying vitriol and accusations from anonymous staffers. This may be the most honest thing about the supercommittee narrative that the public can actually see. The vague, anonymous, undetailed “proposals” that are apparently being shuffled among the committee members are given their appropriate due when published alongside such gems as this:

The GOP aide accused Democrats of leaking details of their offer to the press and said it is a clear sign Democrats believe the super committee will fail. “It’s because they know, or they think, or they believe this committee is going to fail,” said the GOP aide, who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the highly sensitive negotiations. “So they need a marker saying this is where we are.”

This shouldn’t be a surprise, though. When supercommittee members’ tight-lipped attitudes toward the press suggest that it’s the attention of voters that stands in the way of their work as representatives, then breaking their rules requiring open meetings shouldn’t be a surprise, and neither should anonymous proposals and accusations.

Perhaps what’s most striking about the new playground-rules PR fight from supercommittee staffers is that it directly contradicts their professed need for secrecy. If a closed door is necessary for adult conversations about deficit reduction, then why are both sides leaking cartoon versions of their “plans” to the press? It’s apparently acceptable to try to anonymously spin the public, but not ok to honestly describe your work and stand by it.

When it comes down to it, the supercommittee members aren’t really interested in protecting the sanctity of their conversations. Lobbyists are invited into the process whenever their services prove useful, and the media is brought in whenever there’s a partisan chit to be won. Until the supercommittee starts actually talking about its work in public, all of their claims should be approached with skepticism and derision.

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