Let there be sunshine on the budget supercommittee

There has been a great deal of talk in recent years among Washington’s professional politicians about making government more transparent. President Barack Obama famously promised during his 2008 campaign that all deliberations on his landmark Obamacare health reform law would be televised on C-SPAN. When it came time to actually write the law and do the hard bargaining to get it through Congress, however, there were no C-SPAN cameras behind the closed doors where the action was.

Similarly, Republicans promised in their 2010 Pledge to America to “give all representatives and citizens at least three days to read the bill before a vote.” No such waiting period was taken by the GOP leadership that controls the House of Representatives when it came time to vote on the debt-ceiling deal. Like Obamacare, the new budget law was written behind closed doors.

Among much else, the debt-ceiling deal established a new 12-member supercongressional joint committee tasked with finding$1.2 trillion in spending cuts between now and Nov. 23. The dozen members will include three senators and three House members from each party. The supercommittee has been given extensive powers to accomplish its task, and how it does its work could change the Republic for better or worse. We can imagine no more essential time for greater transparency in government than in the operation of this extraordinary legislative panel. Unfortunately, the law establishing the panel does not require its meetings to be held in public.

Six Republican senators have asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to “ensure that all meetings and hearings [of the supercommittee] are done in a transparent manner through advanced public notification, public attendance and live television broadcasts.”

In their letter, the six senators contended that “all aspects of the federal budget, including revenue increases, could be subject to the committee’s recommendations …  All Americans should have the ability to see how the committee crafts a concrete plan for our fiscal future.”

That is exactly right. It is said that laws and sausages ought not be seen in the making, but such thinking creates a screen that hides the very dark things that the public most needs to see in the full light. As Patrick Henry said in 1787, “the liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be secure so long as the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” Let’s not conceal the deliberations of this supercommittee.

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