The Super Committee has 10 days to reach a deal to reduce the debt by at least $1.2 trillion. They should do it in 7. Here’s why. From the beginning, negotiations and lobbying on the committee’s efforts to reshape the federal budget have been handled in secret. If the Super Committee does come to an agreement, the public must have the option to see for themselves which programs will be cut, which will be spared, and why. The 523 members of Congress who are not on the super powerful, super secret committee should likewise have time to digest and weigh in on proposed changes before it is too late for the bill to be modified. In an affront to our democratic traditions, no member of Congress will be able to amend the bill when it goes to the floor of the House or the Senate. The only chance an elected official will have to voice the concerns of his or her constituents is if he or she is given the opportunity to read the bill before the Super Committee votes.
We can hear the excuses already: Super Committee members need every last minute to hammer out a deal; It’s not fair to shave 3 days off of the time they need to negotiate; The deal is too important to risk it failing for lack of time. We’re not buying it. In August, well before the Super Committee began hiding behind closed doors to attempt to negotiate a solution, Sunlight and many others publicly called for the committee’s recommendation to be made public before a committee vote. Legislation has also been offered to mandate online disclosure of the bill before a vote. Members can’t now feign shock that people are demanding to read the bill. Nor can they complain that they need those extra three days. We have seen time and time again that members of Congress are procrastinators. They will wait until a deadline to come to any conclusion. It won’t matter if the deadline is 72-hours earlier than they hoped. If there is any chance they will come to an agreement (and Super Committee co-chair Jeb Hensarling says he hasn’t “given up hope”) and if they believe transparency is at all important, they will find a way to arrive at an agreement in time for the details to be made public, online, before a final committee vote.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle regularly voice concern about one party or the other “ramming through” legislation at the 11th hour. Now is the time for the bipartisan super committee to recognize that before they make decisions that will impact every American—whether by restructuring social services, modifying the tax code, or altering the defense budget—we have the right to read the bill.