Congressional leaders have yet to make their picks for the new bipartisan, bicameral committee charged with devising a plan for tackling the country’s debt, but some lawmakers are already calling for the panel’s proceedings to be made public.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is among the four congressional leaders who will appoint members to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, last week became the highest-ranking lawmaker to call for the panel’s work to be transparent.
In a statement Friday, Pelosi argued that “it is important to note the role that transparency and accountability play” in the decision-making process of credit-rating agencies such as Standard & Poor’s.
“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,” Pelosi said. “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.”
Pelosi’s statement came several days after a group of Republican senators introduced S.1501, a measure calling for the 12-member debt-reduction committee “to conduct the business of the Committee in a manner that is open to the public.”
The measure was sponsored by Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.) and co-sponsored by six other Republican freshmen — Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), John Boozman (Ark.), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) — as well as Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).
Six of those Senate Republicans also wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), urging them “to ensure that all meetings and hearings are done in a transparent manner through advanced public notification, public attendance and live television broadcasts.”
Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) has introduced a similar House measure, H.R.2796. So far, the bill does not have any co-sponsors.
The debt-ceiling agreement calls for Reid, McConnell, Pelosi and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to each appoint three members to the panel by Aug. 16 and for the committee to hold its first meeting by mid-September.
The legislation also calls for the committee’s co-chairs — who will be appointed by Reid and Boehner — to “make a public announcement of the date, place, time, and subject matter of any hearing to be conducted, not less than 7 days in advance of such hearing,” as well as to “provide an agenda to the joint committee members not less than 48 hours in advance of any meeting.”
But the measure does not specify whether the committee’s proceedings must be open to the public or broadcast on the Internet, as congressional hearings typically are.
So far, expectations are low on Capitol Hill that the committee’s members will be able to agree to a plan to achieve $1.5 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade, as the gap between the parties’ philosophical views on entitlement reform and tax increases remains wide.
Yet even though agreement on any final product is likely to be elusive, the process by which the committee does its work could mark a turning point in the debate over the country’s debt. If the hearings were open, it would be the first time that the public would be offered a clear view of the decision-making on the debt; the Gang of Six, the bipartisan group led by Vice President Biden and the key negotiators in the final leg of debt talks all conducted their discussions behind closed doors.