Transparency Recommendations for Congressional Joint Committee on the Deficit
Over the past several weeks, it has been hard to avoid the drama of the debt ceiling negotiations. While default was avoided, the Budget Control Act settled the debt ceiling issue by pushing most of the tough decisions to a new joint committee of Congress (the “Super Committee”). The committee is tasked with producing another bill that will further reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion, which will likely result in deep cuts to public programs. Such significant cuts are sure to affect every American and every community. With so much at stake, the public deserves to know what the Super Committee is reading, who they are talking to, and what they are considering. Unfortunately, the debt ceiling legislation did not contain any significant transparency requirements that Americans expect and deserve.
We need to inject openness and mechanisms for the public's voice into this important national debate. The stakes are high. Special interest lobbyists are already gearing up to defend their pet projects. They'd rather operate in the dark – and usually, Congress would, too. We have to make it clear that is not how democracy operates.
As the Super Committee wrestles with spending cuts of such magnitude, it must commit to openness and accountability. The new joint committee should establish a dedicated website where all information associated with the committee's activities is posted in real time, including:
- Proposals and supporting documentation
- Witness lists and hearing agendas
- Live and archived webcasts of all meetings and hearings
- A means to collect and aggregate public feedback and reactions to the proposals being considered
Beyond the disclosure website, Congress should also ensure that the Super Committee:
- Is composed of members who support an open and accountable process
- Guarantees all official meetings will be open to the press and the general public
- Asks for and publishes comments from the public on both the legislative language and its accompanying report prior to a final vote
Finally, to guard against special interest influence peddling, each committee member and each staff member working for the committee should:
- Post his or her financial holdings online immediately and leave them online at least nine months after the committee disbands
- Post his or her campaign contributions online within 24 hours of receipt and leave them online through his or her next election
We’re pleased to see that some members of Congress – from both political parties – have joined the call for openness.
The American people need to scrutinize and participate in these deliberations. Our colleagues at the Sunlight Foundation have set the ball in the motion, and we encourage you to read their blog post on the issue. Afterwards, we encourage you to contribute your thoughts as well: on Facebook, on Twitter, on your blog, or in an op-ed. Start the conversation in your community – and bring it to your members of Congress.