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Cat Food Commission Will Be Carried Out Partially In Secret

photo: Kerry Vaughan via Flickr

The Simpson-Bowles Fiscal Commission will hold their first working group meeting tomorrow. They plan once-a-week meetings on discretionary spending, mandatory spending and tax policy, and then a larger, once-a-month meeting to go over the reports of the working groups. But although the White House promised transparency and full public hearings for all fiscal commission activities, Executive Director (and former DLC head) Bruce Reed told Congressional officials today that the working groups would not be streamed over the Internet or open to the public.

John Conyers (D-MI) in particular has pushed for more transparency from the fiscal commission in two key areas. He wanted full transparency for all meetings, and he wanted the recommendations made public before the midterm elections, to give the public and the candidates for those elections an opportunity to weigh in on them. Conyers has been rebuffed on both counts, actually. Not only will the working groups operate in secret, in contrast to the larger monthly meetings which will be streamed live at, but Reed also said that the commission will not release their draft recommendations before Election Day.

Understand what we have here. There’s a fiscal commission operating partially in secret, without transcripts or recordings, planning to drop recommendations on Congress in the middle of a lame-duck session, with each leader in the House and Senate promising a vote on the recommendations. Unlike the Conrad-Gregg commission upon which this was modeled, the executive order on the fiscal commission does not mandate a super-majority requirement in each chamber of Congress for passage. It does mandate the need for agreement from 14 of the 18 commission members for passage of any recommendation, but the commission is stacked with people who want to target entitlement spending rather than any balanced proposal.

Even those supposedly defending bedrock programs like Social Security and Medicare on the commission, like the SEIU’s Andy Stern, have expressed a desire to at least open the retirement program to add-on private stock accounts:

“I agree with many Commissioners who have said that all entitlement programs should be on the table. We should include tax entitlements in that conversation… This Commission should examine our country’s entire retirement security system, private and public. Taxpayer dollars are spent in a multitude of ways, not just on Social Security, with the aim of producing retirement security. Yet, many Americans retire
with anything but security. We should include as part of our agenda ideas for strengthening the private parts of the retirement security system, reviewing both the adequacy and the solvency of the Social Security system, and the possibility of universal add-on retirement accounts.

Add-on private accounts are an idea direct from the DLC in the late 1990s, when Bruce Reed, who co-wrote a domestic policy book with Rahm Emanuel, was involved with the group.

We have a commission pre-disposed to those types of ideas, operating partially in secret, foisting recommendations on Congress in December, without a super-majority obstacle to overcome in the House or the Senate (although the filibuster would presumably still be in play should a Democrat actually want to protect people from safety net cuts).

An House aide told me that the commission is deliberately trying to “keep the public from weighing in until the last possible moment.” They aren’t delivering public hearings outside of Washington, claiming that they don’t have a budget, but that could be deliberate as well, because it allows them to have billionaire hedge fund manager Pete Peterson provide the commission with staff and fold the conversation into his deficit mania “America Speaks” tour. It’s quite a public/private partnership going on.

I wonder if anyone will wait outside the door in the Cannon office building tomorrow while the first working group plots to force the middle class to “sacrifice” for the bailouts of the rich and connected. Maybe someone will put a glass up to the door and listen in and get us a rough sketch of what they have planned.

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David Dayen

David Dayen