WASHINGTON — As a journalist I've been objecting to closed door meetings all my professional life, but if there is any hope of the "super committee" coming up with a miracle compromise on reducing the debt and putting the economy back on a strong footing it can't be accomplished in open session.
The reason should be clear to even those unschooled in the ways of special interests. All six Republicans and six Democrats on the panel have well defined loyalties to one narrow interest or another from old folks lobbies to anti-tax groups that are always ready to do battle against any sign of rational bartering. Even the idea of a hybrid approach to the committee's work — a combination of public interviewing and behind door debate — is probably not a good idea.
This committee has only three months to come up with some sort of solution to the nation's budgetary and debt dilemma that encompasses the need of reforming the tax code, Medicare, and unrestricted spending while at the same time dealing with continued unemployment that makes workable detente all that much more difficult. It is hard to imagine much success under the best of circumstances, let alone if the panel is forced to take all this up in one of those patented political circuses for which congressional hearings are so famous.
Does anyone believe there is a Capitol Hill venue large enough to hold the lobbyists that would flock to open hearings where the steady sounds of tweets to their loyal supporters would provide the background noise? Can one imagine that any members with this thankless assignment would speak their minds knowing the bombardment of objections would reach a disastrous crescendo from their home districts?
Of course they wouldn't. The Republican members known as the Grover Norquist Six because of their pledge to the anti-tax guru not to raise levies no matter what evidence supports such a move are expected to be a hard sell in the first place let alone if they have to stick their necks out in public. The same is true for the Democratic members who want nothing to do with any adjustment to Medicare and Social Security needed to meet the pressures of a demographic far different than when these programs were enacted.
Hold these deliberations in public? Why? The positions are well set out and the necessities obvious.
This special committee concept was designed by masochists in the first place and the "leaders" of both parties made it all the more difficult by picking 12 members hardly known for compromise.
The only hope of this group bringing forth a workable plan for our salvation is for every member to take an oath swearing to the great spirit of bipartisanship and to spend 18 hours a day working on it sans outside influence. Fat chance of that in the first place and none whatsoever if the doors are open.
Some projects are so delicate that they simply have to be negotiated outside the public's prying eyes. The U.S. Constitution was hammered out in the sweltering heat of a Philadelphia summer sometimes without even the windows open to minimize the leaks. Besides, any results from this committee would have to be brought before what is known in parliamentary parlance as "the committee of the whole," and debated on the House and Senate floors.
In most instances the people's business should be conducted in the presence of the people. But in this case the people's positions appear so fragmented as to defy rational input as the recent debacle over raising the debt limit proved beyond much doubt.
Like it or not, it simply is the nature of the political beast to have more courage when the door is closed than when it is open. Good luck anyway.
E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at firstname.lastname@example.org