When he was a candidate for president, Barack Obama called repeatedly for greater transparency in government.
As we now know, this was just more hollow campaign rhetoric. His promise to put the healthcare negotiations on C-SPAN never materialized, leading to the point where former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said that Congress would have to pass the healthcare bill before the American people could know what was in it.
Jumping ahead two years we now have the congressional so-called "Supercommittee" that will make recommendations on spending cuts that must be approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president so that phase two of the debt ceiling increase can go into effect. [Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.]
If the committee fails to produce a report, or it is defeated in either chamber, it will trigger across the board cuts in federal spending that will impact every aspect of the federal budget.
There are a number of reasons the proposal is inherently dangerous, least of all that, again, the nation faces the prospect of secret, closed door negotiations that will be presented at the last minute in a "take it or leave it" fashion.
This is not a good way to run a railroad. Thus far this approach has led to a record increase in the federal debt, partisan gridlock and a downgrading of U.S. bonds from "Triple A" to "Double A plus" by one of the two major Wall Street ratings agencies. America is losing confidence in its government; pollster Scott Rasmussen says just 17 percent of the nation now believes the federal government has the "consent" of the governed—a new low. [See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]
The solution is simple. Every meeting of the so-called "Supercommittee," including those held at the White House, needs to be broadcast on C-SPAN and webcast so that everyone who wants to watch its deliberations can. Further, every proposal needs to be made in writing and posted on the Internet before it can be discussed by the members. Every amendment needs to be put online as it is made and all votes taken by the committee need to be recorded and posted as well.
This may sound extreme but it is actually nothing but an exercise in open government, made available to the nation by the new technologies that have already changed the political and legislative processes. Putting the hearings online would allow every American to see for themselves—without the filters imposed by the spin doctors—what is going on inside the room in real time.
Secret meetings, clandestine proposals, posturing press conferences, and last minute ultimatums should no longer be the order of the day. Instead, America needs to be in on the negotiations that will very likely determine whether the "Triple A" bond rating is restored and whether or not the economy is going to start growing again. Whatever the final deal is, the American people need to feel like they had a role in crafting it—even if just by watching it being put together.