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A Transparent Super Committee Would Be Headline News

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That lobbyists are influencing Super Committee members is a “dog bites man” story. Corporate lobbyists are eager to earn their hefty retainers by convincing members to save their clients from the chopping block. The real news would be if the Super Committee members disclosed to the public the names of those lobbyists, the clients they represent, and which particular government programs, subsidies or grants the lobbyists want to save.

Sunlight has called for the Super Committee to adopt H.R. 2860, the Deficit Committee Transparency Act, a bill that would require Super Committee members to report, in real time, when they meet with special interests. We also called for Super Committee members to take the simple step of voluntarily reporting their meetings with special interests.

It’s disheartening, to put it mildly, that calls for Super Committee transparency have so far met with a collective shoulder shrug from the very members of the committee who have been given unprecedented power over the nation’s purse strings. Perhaps they are suffering from a raging case of hubris—believing themselves immune from the persuasive powers, not to mention campaign contributions, of corporate special interests. They have demonstrated a complete unwillingness to make their meetings with one another transparent. It is no wonder they want to keep their meetings with special interests secret as well.

But what about their colleagues—the 523 members of the House and Senate whose power was diminished the minute the Super Committee was convened? Why have the appropriations committee chairs and budget committee members, the fiscal hawks and the champions of the social safety net complacently allowed secrecy to become the modus operandi for the Super Committee? They should be outraged that the Super Committee is doing its work behind closed doors. But instead of demanding accountability from their colleagues, they are quietly acquiescing. Only five members of the House have cosponsored the Deficit Committee Transparency Act, and not a single senator has stepped up to even offer the bill in the Senate.

Perhaps they don’t want to offend their colleagues on the Super Committee. Perhaps they hope, if the Super Committee model becomes the norm, to someday also wield extraordinary power in the dark. Or perhaps they are so accustomed to the way Washington does business—with corporate, moneyed special interests having access and influence while the rest of us are shut out of the process—that they don’t even recognize the problem.

It’s time they open their eyes. Members of the House should cosponsor H.R. 2860. Members of the Senate who claim to believe in transparency should introduce the bill. All should call on Super Committee members to demonstrate responsibility and accountability and disclose every meeting they or their staff take on super committee issues.