Feb. 10, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Watchdogs Say Transparency Efforts Fall Short

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern said Republicans haven’t kept their promises on making the House more transparent.

“Here’s the deal: They campaigned on a set of promises that they haven’t kept. When you look at the way they handled the extension of payroll tax cuts, it was a closed process,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a member of the Rules Committee. “They have this habit of coming to the House floor and talking about how open and wonderful everything is. And then we get this monstrosity of a rule. ... You scratch your head and say, ‘What planet are these guys on?’”

Only a couple of years ago, of course, Republicans were lodging the same sort of complaints about the way then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was running the chamber.

The Case for Quiet

Some expert observers of Congress argue that a degree of secrecy actually helps lawmakers reach compromises that would have been impossible if worked out in the public arena.

In a Congressional Research Service paper from 2011, shortly after the super committee concluded its assignment, Walter J. Oleszek revisited this theme. He wrote: “Private discussions and meetings offer lawmakers a ‘sanctuary’ where their opinions and ideas can be raised and vigorously debated without concern about outside political repercussions.”

Sarah Binder, a Congressional expert and professor at George Washington University, agrees.

“Putting things behind closed doors facilitates compromise that might not be possible out in the public’s eye,” Binder said. “If our ultimate goal is to actually solve public problems, my approach is to give legislators the space they need in order to craft those deals.”

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