Feb. 11, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Deficit Panel Must Balance Transparency, Deal-Making

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Rob Portman, a member of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, says the panel should balance public meetings and private conversations between Members and with staff in order to make progress.

The most powerful Congressional committee ever constructed will hold its first public meeting Thursday amid promises of transparency, but much of the committee's work is likely to remain out of sight as staffers and committee members hash out their ideas behind closed doors.

The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, aka the super committee, has already seen rising pressure to keep an open process and to promptly disclose campaign contributions to committee members.

The first two meetings an organizational meeting Thursday and a hearing Tuesday will be public, and several committee members said this week they would like the process to be open.

But even as they nodded to the clamor for public disclosure, both parties' committee members huddled and war-gamed privately (and separately) Wednesday to prepare for the first public meeting.

"You should have both" public and private conversations, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), one of the panel members, said in a brief interview Tuesday. Portman said that meetings should be public but noted there is also a role for private conversations between Members and with staff. He said those conversations have already been taking place over the past several weeks.

"The idea is to build some trust," Portman said.

Indeed, Co-Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said Wednesday that she's talked more to her co-chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), in the past few weeks than she has to her children.

Murray said a rules package has already been vetted with her Republican colleagues and would be adopted Thursday.

"I think that we all very much recognize that the public really wants us to solve these critical problems in a very serious way," she said. "We are prepared to do that. ... We intend to be working extremely hard over the next 10 weeks to put forward a proposal that helps put our country back on track."

She added: "We are putting everything on the table and have not ruled anything out."

Some lawmakers want guarantees that the committee will conduct its business in public even if that flies in the face of the reality that every deal ultimately is written in a back room.

Three House Members, Reps. Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Jim Renacci (R-Ohio), introduced a bill Wednesday backed by the Sunlight Foundation that would require disclosure of meetings with lobbyists, campaign contributions and three days of public disclosure of any deal before a vote is taken, among other items.

"The super committee has been given unprecedented power to make unprecedented decisions, and we must call for unprecedented transparency," Quigley said.

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