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This week House and Senate leadership began to announce choices for the so-called "Super Committee" charged with drawing up a plan for $1.5 trillion in debt reduction over the next ten years. As we and several of our partners have been talking about since we first heard of the idea, unless the Committee agrees to adopt a strong transparency regime, the public will have no insight into the content, much less the development, of the final deal until it is announced.
The stakes are unusually high, pushing the need for openness and accountability even higher. Members of the Super Committee have disproportionate power to make decisions that will touch on all of our lives in some way -- be it through raising tax rates or closing loopholes; cutting spending on popular programs; ending subsidies that benefit students, the elderly, homeowners, etc.; reworking the social safety net; and the list goes on. A Super Committee that goes about its business completely behind closed doors is a good thing only for the fleet of lobbyists gearing up to protect their clients' private interests, and for the size of the Super Committee member's fundraising war chest. A strong transparency regime is the only way to counteract that special influence and help make sure the Super Committee members are working in the public interest.
Furthermore, if the closed-door negotiations held before the debt ceiling bill was passed failed to produce an agreement on these issues, there is little reason to think that more closed-door negotiations with a slightly different set of characters will produce a better result. One of the factors that contributed to the failure of earlier rounds of negotiations is the disproportionate influence of small, but very vocal, constituencies (from both sides of the aisle). By adopting more open door policies, the Super Committee can create an environment that fosters an informed, engaged, citizenry and honest debate-- a recipe for helping make sure a few voices cannot so easily drown out the many.
We've joined the Sunlight Foundation's campaign to encourage the Super Committee to adopt rules that advance transparency. At a minimum the Super Committee should:
Members of Congress, including those in leadership, from both chambers and both sides of the aisle have endorsed the idea that the Super Committee should adopt a vigorous transparency regime.