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No More Secrecy in Debt Fight


One of the main components of the legislative “solution” to the debt ceiling “crisis” that occurred a few weeks ago is the formation of a new bipartisan Super Committee that is charged with cutting $1.2 trillion out of the budget over the next ten years by November 23, 2011. (Technically, it’s called the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction.)

Well, the Super Committee members have now been selected, and here they are: Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA), John Kerry (D-MA), and Max Baucus (D-MT) and Representatives Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), Fred Upton (R-MI), Dave Camp (R-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Xavier Becerra (D-CA), and Jim Clyburn (D-SC).

Of course, when you’re dealing with these kinds of numbers ($1.2 trillion), lobbyists and special interests immediately come crawling out of the woodwork to do anything they can to avoid being placed on the chopping block. The press is already putting the campaign donors of these committee members under the microscope.

The 12 Super Committee members have received $64.5 million in campaign contributions from political action committees (PACS) and employees over the last decade (numbers courtesy of Maplight). At the top of the list are PACS funded by the legal profession, Wall Street firms (such as Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase), and Democratic/Liberal groups, who contributed $9.6 million to committee members.

(Interestingly, these Democratic/Liberal groups contributed more campaign funds than healthcare interests and professionals. Democrats on the committee received more than double the amount of donations from these special interest groups than their fellow Republican committee members.)

Rep. Xavier Becerra (or, more exactly, his lobbyist cut-outs) is already using his Super Committee membership to began to raise campaign money. As I tweeted at the time:

Ka-ching! Super-committeeman Rep. Becerra puts out for the “for sale” sign on his public office. Bribes welcome?

And it doesn’t help that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) appointed Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to the debt panel.

Sen. Murray is the head of the Democratic Senatorial Congressional Committee, the chief campaign fundraising arm for her fellow Senate Democrats. And you can bet the Republican members will see, as if by magic, major dollar increases to their political war chests.

All of this is further reason why transparency in the Super Committee’s proceedings is so critical. And thankfully, this is something upon which members of both political parties agree. So a cheer for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who issued a strong statement:

The American people are watching to see if the bipartisan Joint Committee will develop a plan to responsibly reduce the deficit in a balanced way while promoting economic growth and creating jobs.

The work of this Committee will affect all Americans, and its deliberations should be open the press, to the public and webcast.

Any acceptance of the Committee proposal will be dependent on the ability of the American people to fully view its proceedings.

I don’t buy the “balance,” but I’m buying the transparency.

Meanwhile, six Senate Republicans have written a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressing their concern about the tremendous power wielded by the Super Committee and asking for absolute transparency in its proceedings:

[W]e are united in our concern about the authority granted to this committee….We ask you, as two of the appointers of the Committee, to ensure that all meetings and hearings are done in a transparent manner through advanced public notification, public attendance and live television broadcasts….All Americans should have the ability to see how the committee crafts a concrete plan for our fiscal future.

It will be interesting to see how things develop with Republican and Democratic leaders seemingly united on the issue of transparency. Of course, the devil will be in the details and in the follow through. We’ve been promised transparency before — remember Obama’s broken promise on health care reform meetings? — only to see politicians return to their secretive ways.

By the way, it is important to remember, we’re not just talking about spending cuts. Despite the grandstanding and backslapping by Republican leaders after the debt ceiling deal was struck, tax increases (called “revenue hikes” when politicians want to avoid the “t” word) are still on the table. As reported by Fox Business Channel: “Gridlock resulting in zero cuts would automatically trigger $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts or hikes in revenue, meaning possibly tax increases.”

The power of this Super Committee is extraordinary and seemingly at odds with how our nation’s Founding Fathers intended Congress to operate. This is all the more reason that the American people should demand absolute transparency. Please call the members of the Super Committee today and tell them you want all committee proceedings to be transparent and available to the public. Here are their phone numbers (full congressional directory here):

Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA): 202-224-4254

Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ): 202-224-4521

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH): 202-224-3353

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA): 202-224-2621

Senator John Kerry (D-MA): 202-224-2742

Senator Max Baucus (D-MT): 202-224-2651

Representative Jeb Hensarling (R-TX): 202-225-3484

Representative Fred Upton (R-MI): 202-225-3761

Representative Dave Camp (R-MI): 202-225-3561

Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD): 202-225-5341

Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA): 202-225-6235

Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC): 202-225-3315

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