- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2011

The debt-ceiling agreement brokered behind closed doors by President Obama and congressional leadership was a failure in every respect. It neither soothed the markets nor produced a dime in actual spending cuts.

The stock markets plunged and the United States suffered a humiliating downgrade - the very fate this deal was supposed to avoid. The new Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction needs to do better.

The group isn’t meeting until September, but rank-and-file members are already pushing to head off another backroom deal that leaves the rest of Congress out of the loop until a massive, unreadable bill is dropped a few hours before the vote.

Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Vern Buchanan sent a letter on Thursday to the committee’s six Democrats and six Republicans asking them to commit to open-door proceedings. Mr. Heller introduced a bill requiring the hearings and meetings to be broadcast live on TV, open to the public.

“Congress still has an opportunity to make the long-term structural changes to place our nation on a fiscally sustainable path,” the Nevada Republican told The Washington Times. “However, given there will not be an opportunity to amend the committee’s recommendations, it’s important that the American people are able to provide input as the process unfolds.”

In the House, Mr. Buchanan introduced similar legislation on transparency for the committee’s work, which he calls the “Sunshine Bill.” He tried to get this bill passed when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Democrat, was ramming through Obamacare, which she said had to be passed to know what was in it.

“The public needs to know what’s happening before the deal is made, not after,” the Florida Republican told The Washington Times. “Openness in government is always reassuring whether you’re a factory worker in Michigan or a Wall Street trader.”

Freshman Rep. Jeff Landry, a cosponsor of Mr. Buchanan’s bill, called on the media to invest in the process.

“Hopefully, the committee hearings won’t just be on the cable channels, but the national networks will cover them,” the Louisiana Republican told The Washington Times in an interview. “In the days of Iran-Contra, they’d put these hearings on national TV and interrupt the soap operas, and my grandmother would complain!”

Under the joint committee’s special rules, it only takes one Republican to go along with united Democrats to have tax hikes pushed to the floor under expedited procedures. Sunshine is the best bet to stop that from happening and to guard against yet another bad deal, and even Mrs. Pelosi has changed her tune and wants to adopt the same transparency measures.

Let the public have a say in the final deal before the damage is done.

Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.