Super Committee in the Shadows


Roll Call, and now Politico, have important stories about the super committee meeting in secret. It’s becoming clear that the super committee views its public work as an unimportant distraction, and has decided to operate almost completely through closed meetings.  Van Hollen:

“Right now, as you know, we have a lot of meetings, a lot of conversations,” he said. “We’re going to continue that next week. We met for seven hours today, seven hours yesterday, so we’re just going to keep at it.”

The committee members have apparently forgotten that secrecy erodes legitimacy, and that their joint committee was created through a wildly secretive process that produced a bill that nobody could read before voting on it. The joint committee members, all apparently oblivious to the last few months of politics, have decided en masse that the process that led us to this point will lead us out of it too, choosing to meet in secret, all the while refusing to disclose who is giving to their campaigns and lobbying their offices.

Our existing campaign finance and lobbying disclosure laws aren’t even sufficient to normal circumstances, and lawmakers pretending that they’re sufficient for supercommittee accountability are arguing in bad faith.

Regarding open meetings, the super committee isn’t even living up to normal standards for committee openness, even though they’ve got extraordinary power.  If these twelve people reach an agreement, the House and Senate must dutifully vote on whatever they decide — remember, there are no amendments, no filibuster, and no motion to recommit.  And the rules that the committee itself adopted require that its meetings be open.

Apparently the Super Committee is having non-meeting meetings.  All the members convened in a room, and met for 7 hours a day for two days, and apparently that’s not a meeting. I don’t know what kind of precedent or procedure there is for enforcing House and Senate rules on a joint committee, but the committee appears to be simply denying that they’re holding meetings, in order to avoid longstanding requirements that those meetings be public.

When Senator Kerry was asked whether the committee was open enough, he replied that they were committed to getting “work done”.  If it’s all done in secret, in contravention of the rules, with undisclosed lobbying and fundraising at the same time, we’re left wondering — whose work?

We’ve never taken an extremist “everything must be open” position towards the super committee, and acknowledge that some negotiations must be private. But this isn’t “some negotiations” — this is the committee itself, meeting in secret. The super committee members have apparently chosen each other over the public.