On Wednesday, I argued that the sudden push to throw open the negotiations of the congressional "supercommittee" charged with finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction was a bad idea that would make a deal less likely. A number of good-government types objected to what I wrote and insisted that openness was an imperative. I admire many of these people and organizations and support the important work they do to open up government; I suspect I'd share their views on almost any issue, so let me explain further why I differ with them on this one.
That description is accurate, but I disagree with the conclusion. The whole point of the supercommittee is that it works outside the ordinary process -- to my mind, that's a feature not a bug. By shielding the negotiators from scrutiny, they're spared from having to posture for their respective bases, and will have room to offer concessions they wouldn't dream of making publicly. Personally, I'm skeptical that they'll succeed (pressure from outside will diminish; it won't disappear). But I'm not worried about shady dealings, a la Cheney and oil companies, because the deliberations will focus on removing, rather than giving away, tax breaks, loopholes, and favors. That's incredibly hard to do in the current political climate. If you want the negotiators to succeed in striking a deal where both sides sacrifice something, a private supercommittee is probably the best bet. And if they do strike a deal and it's terrible, there will be ample opportunity to press members of Congress to vote against it.
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