Congressional “Super Committee” Holds Rare Public Hearing Today
November 1, 2011
WASHINGTON. - The so-called "super committee" of 12 U.S. House and Senate members charged with cutting more than $1 trillion from the federal budget holds a public meeting today. But it's their private meetings that have political watchdog groups most concerned.
During September and October, the committee met almost daily behind closed doors, scheduling only three open hearings. Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, predicts that the process will lead to bad agreements because it doesn't invite enough outside input.
"They're still absolutely open to corporate influence. The more secrecy there is, the more corporate influence there is. So, an occasional 'show hearing' does very little when the gist of their operation is behind the scenes."
Weissman wants greater transparency from the super committee - in both its deliberations and its connections to special interests. House and Senate leaders from both parties have also called for greater openness, saying the committee's legitimacy is at stake.
The Sunlight Foundation has been tracking the lobbyists and campaign contributors who might be quietly influencing Super Committee members such as Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. Mary Boyle, vice president for communications at Common Cause, notes that Hensarling has seen a jump in campaign contributions during the third quarter of this year, since he's been seated on the committee. Boyle sees it as a conflict of interest.
"It certainly raises the question of, 'Were people giving him money as a way to influence his decisions and vote?' It just looks bad. A lot of people feel like our Congress is bought and controlled by wealthy special interests."
Groups such as Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation are calling on Super Committee members to suspend all fundraising while serving. Today's public hearing is slated to revisit previous debt-reduction proposals, such as one by the president's fiscal commission last year.
The Sunlight Foundation analysis is online at sunlightfoundation.com/supercommittee.