Rehberg, others ask that deficit supercommittee open its meetings

2011-10-12T17:44:00Z 2011-10-12T23:55:14Z Rehberg, others ask that deficit supercommittee open its meetings

By MIKE DENNISON

Gazette State Bureau

By MIKE DENNISON

Gazette State Bureau

The Billings Gazette

HELENA — U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., on Wednesday asked the 12-member congressional supercommittee working on a deficit-reduction plan to stop holding secret meetings, echoing a growing chorus of interests saying the high-level talks should be public.

“The American people deserve to know what their elected officials are negotiating in the way of deficit reduction,” he wrote in a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. “I have said it before and I’ll say it again — an open, transparent process leads to better policy.”

So far, the panel — whose members include Montana Sen. Max Baucus — has mostly ignored requests that it should open meetings where member are discussing various deficit-reduction options.

Baucus, when asked this week by the Gazette State Bureau whether he supported the closed meetings, released a statement that said the panel’s “official work” and votes will be taken in public.

“Official work” includes hearings, votes and decisions by the panel, his office said.

Committee rules allow a majority of its members to close any meeting that does not involve an official vote on its recommendations or the final plan. Baucus’ office said congressional committees routinely hold private sessions where members discuss issues before it.

The supercommittee has until Nov. 23 to craft a plan to cut at least $1.2 billion from the federal deficit over the next 10 years. The plan will face an up-or-down vote in Congress, with no opportunity to amend it.

If the plan fails, across-the-board cuts will go into effect for the 2013 budget year.

The 12-member bipartisan committee, with six members each from the House and Senate, has held two public hearings, at which only two people testified: The director of the Congressional Budget Office and the chief of staff for a congressional taxation committee.

It has held a half-dozen lengthy sessions in secret, without members of the public or press allowed.

A bill has been introduced in both the House and Senate to require all of the Joint Select Committee’s meetings to be open, but the bill has gone nowhere.

Most of the bill’s sponsors are Republicans, but some Democrats and interest groups also have called for the meetings to be open.

Rehberg said both political parties are at fault for keeping the panel’s meetings closed to the public, calling it “shameful.”

“I’m hopeful that the House (Republican) leadership and Senate Democratic leadership will change course on this and respect the public right to know,” he said. “This is about the very role of the public in a representative government.”

Rehberg said the public should get to see what the committee is discussing and offer its own ideas, rather than relying on 12 members cutting a political deal.

Baucus said the American people “deserve to have this process be as transparent as possible,” and that every vote of the committee will be done in public.

When asked what the committee is considering, Baucus staffers said it is examining taxes, entitlement programs, defense spending and discretionary spending — which includes just about everything.

His staff also said Baucus is pushing for cuts in defense spending, which makes up more than half of discretionary spending and is relatively higher now than any time since World War II.

HELENA — U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., on Wednesday asked the 12-member congressional supercommittee working on a deficit-reduction plan to stop holding secret meetings, echoing a growing chorus of interests saying the high-level talks should be public.

“The American people deserve to know what their elected officials are negotiating in the way of deficit reduction,” he wrote in a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. “I have said it before and I’ll say it again — an open, transparent process leads to better policy.”

So far, the panel — whose members include Montana Sen. Max Baucus — has mostly ignored requests that it should open meetings where member are discussing various deficit-reduction options.

Baucus, when asked this week by the Gazette State Bureau whether he supported the closed meetings, released a statement that said the panel’s “official work” and votes will be taken in public.

“Official work” includes hearings, votes and decisions by the panel, his office said.

Committee rules allow a majority of its members to close any meeting that does not involve an official vote on its recommendations or the final plan. Baucus’ office said congressional committees routinely hold private sessions where members discuss issues before it.

The supercommittee has until Nov. 23 to craft a plan to cut at least $1.2 billion from the federal deficit over the next 10 years. The plan will face an up-or-down vote in Congress, with no opportunity to amend it.

If the plan fails, across-the-board cuts will go into effect for the 2013 budget year.

The 12-member bipartisan committee, with six members each from the House and Senate, has held two public hearings, at which only two people testified: The director of the Congressional Budget Office and the chief of staff for a congressional taxation committee.

It has held a half-dozen lengthy sessions in secret, without members of the public or press allowed.

A bill has been introduced in both the House and Senate to require all of the Joint Select Committee’s meetings to be open, but the bill has gone nowhere.

Most of the bill’s sponsors are Republicans, but some Democrats and interest groups also have called for the meetings to be open.

Rehberg said both political parties are at fault for keeping the panel’s meetings closed to the public, calling it “shameful.”

“I’m hopeful that the House (Republican) leadership and Senate Democratic leadership will change course on this and respect the public right to know,” he said. “This is about the very role of the public in a representative government.”

Rehberg said the public should get to see what the committee is discussing and offer its own ideas, rather than relying on 12 members cutting a political deal.

Baucus said the American people “deserve to have this process be as transparent as possible,” and that every vote of the committee will be done in public.

When asked what the committee is considering, Baucus staffers said it is examining taxes, entitlement programs, defense spending and discretionary spending — which includes just about everything.

His staff also said Baucus is pushing for cuts in defense spending, which makes up more than half of discretionary spending and is relatively higher now than any time since World War II.

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