No Open-and-Shut Case
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) may be the new kid on the block, but she's having no trouble making her views known to the old bulls on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The freshman has already tired of debating defense appropriations issues in secret, and has this week been forcing senators on her subcommittees and on the full committee to vote to make the hearings public, as she did yesterday, when the committee was considering the funding for the Defense Department.
Not that she has had any success. Most of her colleagues clearly like things the way they are, because none of the sessions has been opened to the public. Of course, just who voted how cannot be known, because the vote to open a hearing comes behind closed doors.
Most congressional committees "mark up" -- the process of considering, discussing and debating -- legislation and funding bills in an open session before sending them to the full Senate.
Historically, the Armed Services Committee and the intelligence committee have done their business in secret, because they deal with classified information.
McCaskill said in an interview yesterday that when she was Missouri state auditor, before being elected to the Senate, she was responsible for enforcing open-records laws. Since her campaign, she has called for transparency when members earmark money for special projects, so the public can see where taxpayer money is being spent.
"I think we have an obligation to work in front of the public," she said, not disputing that classified information needs to stay classified.
"This is [hundreds of millions] of dollars we are dealing with, and the vast majority of the work we are doing is not classified."
Others disagree. A spokesman for Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said that the committee does a fair amount of classified work, which is why markups are closed.
McCaskill said her colleagues have also argued that by keeping the process closed, they are protected from "lobbyists hovering around like vultures."
But she isn't buying it. "If that's the goal, we haven't been very successful. The vultures have been at work."
Speaking From Experience
For some Hill lawmakers, reasons for supporting or opposing any war can be quite personal -- and often hark back to their experiences.