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Supercommittee Meeting Secretly

September 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The “public access and transparency” rules that the deficit supercommittee adopted when they first convened contain a major loophole. If they want to block the media and the public out of their meetings, all they have to do is vote to do so and they can operate in total secrecy. Not surprisingly, invoking that loophole seems to have become their standard operating procedure.


The supercommittee has become supersecret about most of what it’s doing.

On Tuesday, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) encapsulated the attitude of the members of the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee: “I don’t want to discuss what we discussed.”

As 12 lawmakers tackle the historic task of slashing at least $1.2 trillion from the nation’s deficit, they have spent lots of time behind closed doors, speaking almost nothing of their proceedings while leaving behind little more than a trail of sandwich wrappers and unanswered questions.

Roll Call notes that, "to date, “members [of the supercommittee] have had more meetings behind closed doors than they have in public.”

We really shouldn’t be surprised by this. The supercommittee is an anti-democratic institution by design. Not only is it’s proposal guaranteed a vote and sheltered from filibusters and amendments, but it’s members appear to have been chosen in order to limit electoral accountability as well.

Respectfully disagreeing with Matt Yglesias, for these reasons it is especially important that the public has access to the bargaining process. Once the supercommittee proposal is done, there will be zero opportunity for meaningful public input. The Budget Control Act specifies that no amendments will be made in order, no committee mark-ups will be held, etc. If the public does not have access to information about what’s on the table at this point in the process, their ability to give feedback will be limited to advocating a yes or no vote on passage. That’s just not sufficient. Everyone knows that to actually affect legislation, you have to get involved at the earliest stages of the legislative process. The way the supercommittee is operating guarantees that the public can only be involved at the very last stage. 

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