Aug. 4, 2011 – 2:28 p.m.

Conservative Senators Want Open Meetings of Deficit Panel

Members of the new deficit reduction committee are yet to be appointed, but already some lawmakers are calling on the panel to open its deliberations and make other information available to the public.

Eight conservative Republican senators, all but one of whom voted against the debt limit compromise ( PL 112-25 ), have introduced a bill ( S 1501 ) aimed at ensuring that meetings and hearings conducted by the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction are announced in advance, televised and open to the public.

The cosponsors also sent a letter to Senate leaders Harry Reid , D-Nev., and Mitch McConnell , R-Ky., expressing concern that, “as we understand it, this committee essentially has the ability to craft their list of recommendations without any joint committee jurisdictions and without an open committee process.”

“If our colleagues wish to raise taxes or propose spending cuts,” they wrote, “the American people have a right to see that process unfold.”

The signatories asked Reid and McConnell, who were two of the chief negotiators of the deal and who will each appoint three members of the panel by Aug. 16, to ensure that committee business is done in a “transparent manner.” The panel is charged with delivering to Congress by Dec. 2 a plan for reducing deficit spending by at least $1.2 trillion in spending over 10 years.

A Reid spokesman said Wednesday the committee would make the decision about whether to hold its meetings publicly itself. The law contains no such requirement.

While conference committee meetings on legislation such as the 2010 financial services overhaul ( PL 111-203 ) have been televised, other contentious deliberations have not been open to the public.

One of the signers of the letter, David Vitter of Louisiana, introduced a bill ( S 1498 ) on Tuesday aimed at forcing any lawmaker sitting on the committee to disclose campaign donations of more than $1,000 within 48 hours of receiving them.

“It’s just plain good government for the public to know what special interests are trying to influence the committee,” Vitter said. “We need to see full transparency and accountability because these committee members will be making huge decisions with a lot on the line.”

On Thursday the leaders of 25 political groups, including Common Cause, MoveOn.org PAC and Public Citizen, sent an open letter to Congress echoing Vitter’s concerns and demanding that “from the time they are selected to the time their plan is voted on” the appointees to the committee “cease all political fundraising for themselves, their party or for other candidates” and “provide full transparency on any meetings” with lobbyists, corporate CEOs or donors.