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Advocates to Kerry: Let the "Sun Shine"

November 18, 2011

BOSTON - The congressional "super-committee" faces its deadline for submitting recommendations to cut the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion, and groups advocating for open government are pressing committee members such as Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to post their final recommendations online no later than today.

The proceedings have been mostly secret, and with what's at stake, says John Wonderlich, Sunlight Foundation policy director, the public needs more information.

"They're not restrained as far as their jurisdiction. They can change how Medicare, Social Security, defense spending or the tax code, or really anything else they what. So, it's an amazing amount of power to be given and to do your work in secret."

Lee Farris, federal tax policy coordinator for Massachusetts-based United for a Fair Economy, says she has met with Kerry's staff on numerous occasions to talk about budget matters - and the super-committee secrecy issue has come up.

"They say that's because if they were more public, they would just get lobbied to death by all the special interests - which is another significant problem in our country - but it is frustrating."

Any agreement on the deficit and other issues such as secrecy appear to be long shots, Farris says, because Republicans on the committee reportedly are refusing to accept any tax increases, even on billionaires.

"It is frustrating. I've been to several meetings - three now with the staff of Sen. Kerry, for example - and he's clearly very worried."

Wonderlich believes it isn't acceptable to reorder government spending and public policies without public hearings and the accountability of a truly public process. The Sunlight Foundation and other open-government advocates had asked that the information be released no later than 72 hours before a vote - but with that deadline today, it seems unlikely.

Failure to pass an agreement would result in $1.2 trillion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts starting in 2013.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - MA