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Deficit 'super committee' behind closed doors: Will it be too secretive?

The deficit super committee tasked with cutting $1.2 trillion from the budget over 10 years began its work Thursday. Critics say it needs to be more transparent and members need to stop fundraising.

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With just 100 days to lop at least $1.2 trillion off the federal deficit over the next 10 years, a new joint committee of Congress launched its first meeting today – a nod to the intense scrutiny and calls for transparency that the 12-member panel already faces.

Unlike any other congressional committee, the deficit reduction panel's mandate potentially covers every aspect of federal taxing and spending. That’s why public interest groups – and the protesters evicted from Thursday’s first meeting – are pushing so hard for public access to committee deliberations.

So far, the panel has committed only to Thursday’s public organizing session and a public hearing on Sept. 13 on “the history and drivers of our nation’s debt and its threats.” The co-chairs of the panel, Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R) of Texas both noted in their opening statements that many deliberations will be closed to the press and public.

But public interest groups are pushing back. In August, 24 public interest groups called on the panel members to suspend all campaign fundraising and “provide complete transparency” for the duration of their work on the panel. Their demands include:

  • Live webcasts of all official meetings and hearings.
  • Disclosure of every meeting held with lobbyists.
  • Disclosure of campaign contributions to committee members in real time on campaign websites.
  • Financial disclosure for all committee members and staffers
  • A guarantee that the committee’s report will be posted at least 72 hours before a final committee vote.

“The stakes are too high for such a powerful committee to operate out of the reach of public oversight,” said the Sunlight Foundation, a public interest group that advocates for transparency, in a statement on its website. “We demand to know what goes on behind the scenes: the Super Committee needs to be transparent about its work and about the special interests who will [undoubtedly] try to influence their decisions.”

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