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Is the Super Committee’s Secrecy Brewing a Rank-and-File Revolt?

Lack of transparency is making members on both sides nervous.

by
Richard Pollock

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November 13, 2011 - 12:00 am
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With only two weeks to go, the so-called super committee may be facing a congressional rank-and-file rebellion from lawmakers on the left and right who have been turned off by the insular group’s high degree of secrecy and fears the entire fast-track process may be unconstitutional. There is an underground sentiment in the city — not reported by the mainstream media yet — that the once highly vaunted super committee may facing serious political trouble.

The super committee is a group of twelve members — six Democrats and six Republicans — who were appointed by House and Senate leadership last summer as part of the deficit deal with the White House.  Formally called the “Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction,” the group is mandated to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit relief.  Failure to come up with a proposal automatically triggers spending cuts, $500 billion of which are targeted for the Pentagon.

The group potentially wields unbridled power over the country’s economic fate for the next decade, but virtually nothing is known about its deliberations.  One House member told PJ Media there is an “eerie silence” from it and from the House and Senate leadership.

Others believe the super committee may now be facing a form of  ”de-legitimization” as it has proceeded without offering any substantive information to the public or to Congress. There is a whole confluence of complaints afflicting the panel’s credibility, ranging from its obsession with secrecy, serious ethical problems, campaign fundraising conflicts, and questions about the constitutionality of its unconventional process.

A senior conservative congressional staffer told PJ Media, “Is the super committee dead? Not yet. But it’s moving toward it.”

There also are concerns about ethics problems surrounding the super committee. Currently the panel members do not have to report contacts with outside lobbyists or special interests. And the committee’s work is all about money — big money, and big special interests.

Procedurally the  super committee process is unprecedented and designed to limit debate. If any proposal secures seven of the twelve votes, the super committee will report out its debt reduction plan to both the Senate and House by November 23. There, all amendments will be forbidden and lawmakers will only be able to vote it up or down.

Most troubling to both the left and the right is that there has been no real information about the super committee substance or deliberations. Originally there was an idea that private discussions would de-politicize the issue of cutting spending and entitlements. But the committee’s operating style seems more akin to a Kremlin operation than a U.S. congressional body. As a result,  its credibility has suffered and privately Washington observers believe its reputation is spiraling downward.

There have been no public agendas, records, reports, memos, or documents produced by the group. There have been no written proposals anyone can publicly read or assess. With the exception of a few public meetings, all of the real closed door sessions have been shuttered tight.

Meanwhile, lobbyists with special access to the twelve select members have been marching up to Capitol Hill. The lobbying effort there has been called a “feeding frenzy,” with special interests swarming over Capitol Hill to get their concession or victory from the so-called “gang of twelve.”

The process completely circumvents  a century of congressional rules and constitutionally established processes. Normally legislation requires public hearings, committee votes, passage by both houses of Congress, and joint conference committees to hammer out differences.  The super committee process is, at best, an extra-constitutional process and perhaps even unconstitutional.

Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican from California, believes it is the latter. “The problem of the super committee, it destroys that entire constitutional framework and ultimately will produce  bad public policy,” he told PJ Media.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) has gone further, saying he might eventually challenge the super committee’s constitutionality.  He told CNBC: “Well, I would challenge it in the courts and say that is not a constitutional function.” He added,“There’s no authority to have a super Congress who takes over for what the House and Senate are supposed to do.”

At the end, there will be immense pressures on all the lawmakers to vote in favor of their plan. A defeat could spark a further downgrade of the U.S. debt by rating agencies and stoke another steep downturn on Wall Street.  Standard and Poor´s downgraded the U.S. debt rating shortly after the $1.2 trillion deficit goal was announced by the White House.

However, since August many House conservatives have been uneasy about the super committee’s work. A staffer related the tensions felt at a recent conservative House briefing led by super committee co-chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX).  Reportedly, Hensarling faced blunt criticism from his colleagues.  ”They generally asked straight up questions,” the staffer related.

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