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'Super Congress' Must Be Open and Transparent

August 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The debt ceiling bill that was signed into law yesterday shunts off much of the dirty work of deciding exactly what to programs to cut or whose taxes to increase to a new “joint select committee on deficit reduction,” a.k.a the “Super Congress.” Whatever the Super Congress comes up with will be brought to the Senate and House for votes under expedited rules that bar amendments and limit filibusters. And the bill contains an enforcement mechanism designed to persuade members to vote for the Super Congress’ plan — if it fails, massive cuts to two sacred cows, Medicare and the Defense Department, would automatically take effect.

The Super Congress appears to be designed so that just a handful of lawmakers, who will probably be selected from very safe districts, have to make decisions about which constituents will bear the burdens of austerity. The vast majority of Congress will only have to take an up-or-down vote, and with the threat of cuts to seniors’ health care and precious jobs in teh defense industry, even if they vote for the Super Congress plan they’ll be able to tell constituents that they voted for the less bad of two bad options.

The Super Congress is all about limiting accountability for the tough decisions that nobody in Congress actually wants to make. Furthermore, nothing in the debt debt bill requires that the Super Congress itself be accessiblea and accountable to the public. Under the law, all of their meetings, votes, lobbyist visits, fundraising, etc., can be done secretively so that the public can not track the discussions or give feedback.

But even though the Super Congress doesn’t have to be transparent under the law, there’s nothing stopping them from being open if they believe it’s the right thing to do. Our friends at the Sunlight Foundation have five specific transparency recommendations that the Super Congress should adopt:

  • Live webcasts of all official meetings and hearings
  • The Committee’s report should be posted for 72 hours before a final committee vote
  • Disclosure of every meeting held with lobbyists and other powerful interests
  • Disclosure of campaign contributions as they are received (on their campaign websites)
  • Financial disclosures of Committee members and staffers

You can add you name to a petition demanding these recommendations be adopted at the bottom of this page.

One more thing. The way the debt bill was rushed through Congress, in violation of the House Republicans’s 72-hour pledge and Obama’s pledge to post bills online for 5 days before signing them, pretty much guaranteed that we’d be here, after the bill is law, asking for changes. The bill was posted online after midnight on August 1st, and by 7 pm that same day it had passed the House. If congressional leaders and the Obama Administration actually care about the principles embodied in the pledges they violated with this bill, they’ll heed our call for a transparent Super Committee and go above and beyond the law to guarantee that the public is not locked out again.

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