Members of Congress Can Address Super Committee Super Secrecy

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Today’s New York Times reports that Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are concerned about the super secrecy of the Super Committee. It’s refreshing to know we are not alone in our concern that the Super Committee’s work is taking place entirely behind closed doors, but it is frustrating that those with the power to address the secret nature of the proceedings have failed to do so. Congress can legislate transparency. If Members of Congress want a “window” into the Super Committee’s work, as the Times’ headline suggests, they must demand it by enacting a bill that would ensure that the recommendations of the Deficit Committee are made public for at least 72 hours before a committee vote.

As of yet, Members of Congress have shown little appetite for mandating Super Committee transparency. HR 2860, the Deficit Committee Transparency Act, would, among other things, require final committee recommendations to be made publicly available, online, for at least 72 hours before a committee vote. Unfortunately, the bill has only five cosponsors in the House and has not been introduced in the Senate. Other Super Committee transparency bills, generally requiring less in terms of transparency than HR 2860, have likewise garnered only token support.

It is not too late for Members who feel shut out of the process to legislate a fix. Quick passage of the Deficit Committee Transparency Act would ensure that the final Super Committee agreement is not shoved down the throats of Members of Congress and the public. Importantly, it would also require disclosure of campaign contributions to and special interest lobbying meetings with Super Committee members. A stand-alone 72-hour bill, while still leaving a lot of information in the dark, would at least ensure the end result of the Committee’s secretive work would have a public airing before a final up or down vote.

In the House, rules adopted earlier this Congress require legislation to be made available for three calendar days prior to a vote. Although the rule has been waived or ignored, its passage indicates that Members should have no objection to a 72-hour Super Committee rule. Because Members of Congress have no right to amend the Super Committee’s recommendations to make at least $1.2 trillion in cuts to the federal budget, they should demand the opportunity to weigh in on the cuts while the bill can still be modified.

It was a bill negotiated in secret that brought us the super secret Super Committee in the first place. It’s not too late. Members who are wringing their hands and bemoaning the secrecy of the Committee’s negotiations can still demand transparency.

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