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“The process of making the decisions should itself be visible to the American people in real time — as it is in most other corners of the Congress,” Lightman wrote.
He called a trend toward the opening of certain subcommittee markups a “step in the right direction.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., began pushing for transparency around the defense authorization process when she joined the Senate in 2007. She objected to secret deliberations each year and in 2011, while serving as chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, she succeeded in conducting the markup in open session.
“The public deserves to be able to witness, understand and scrutinize the positions being advocated and the decisions being made by their elected leaders regarding the over half a trillion dollar defense budget,” McCaskill said in a 2012 statement. “We continue to gain votes every year, and I firmly believe that open mark-ups in the full Armed Services Committee are coming in the future.”
Since then, two other Senate Armed Services panels have opened their proceedings. In 2013, half of the subcommittee markups on the fiscal 2014 bill were conducted in open session.
Levin believes opening subcommittee proceedings does not raise the same kind of practical problem as opening the full committee markup, because classified matters can be deferred to the larger body.
Standing Committee of Correspondents Secretary John Donnelly, who writes about defense for CQ Roll Call, is one of the leading proponents of greater transparency in the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senate Historian Don Ritchie, who has written two books on the history of the congressional press corps, provided some perspective on the gradual opening of markup proceedings that has occurred over the past 40 years. He noted that, along with reporters, open meetings attract lobbyists, making it “much harder to cut a deal or make a compromise.”
Ritchie said the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., waxed nostalgic about the markup process toward the end of his career, saying that he used to sit “side by side” with his colleagues and spend days poring over legislation. Open markups, in Kennedy’s opinion, functioned merely as a show for the press, with most of the real work conducted by committee staff.