A bipartisan group of Members of Congress sent a letter to House and Senate leadership outlining specific transparency recommendations for the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka the Super Committee. The letter echoes Sunlight’s proposals for Super Committee transparency, calling for live broadcast of committee meetings; posting of the Super Committee’s final recommendations for 72 hours prior to a final committee vote; weekly posting of campaign contributions received by committee members; and weekly posting of meetings between committee members and special interests.
If these common sense proposals are enacted, they will help to begin to rebuild the public’s trust in the budget process. On the other hand, shrouding the work of the Super Committee behind a veil of secrecy will delegitimize its work, harkening back to the days when decisions were made in smoke filled rooms where money and power changed hands without pubic scrutiny.
None of the four proposals is controversial. Ensuring the meetings and hearings of the Super Committee are public and online should be so obvious as to be a given. Given the importance of the Super Committee’s work, its hearings should not be held to a lesser standard than any other congressional committee—all of which assume hearings will be public unless national security would be at risk. Arguments that committee members won’t be able to deliberate if the meetings are public are, in a word, silly. Public hearings will in no way thwart members from speaking and negotiating privately with one another. Making hearings public will provide an important window into the committee’s goals, its process and its progress.
The remainder of the recommendations similarly fall into a “been there, done that” category so should not be objectionable. Speaker Boehner has already endorsed a 72-hour rule for legislation. Seventy-two hours of public scrutiny and debate should likewise be required before a vote on the Super Committee’s recommendations. Under current law, campaign contributions are public, and if they are given within 20 days of an election, they must be reported within 48 hours. Given the short life of the Super Committee, anything less frequent than the weekly reporting called for here risks nondisclosure of contributions until after the committee’s work is complete. Finally, as the letter points out, disclosure of meetings by lobbyists and other special interests has been required under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Given that the Super Committee lobbying frenzy has already begun, the public should be made aware of who is asking for what.
When they return from recess, House and Senate leaders should announce that these common sense transparency measures will be adopted to ensure accountability and integrity in the Super Committee process.