Heller strikes out on transparency call for 'supercommittee'

WASHINGTON -- The "supercommittee" charged with reducing federal deficits by at least $1.2 trillion adopted rules Thursday that would allow some of its business to be conducted in private despite calls from Sen. Dean Heller and others for full openness.

"I am disappointed the chairs of the supercommittee did not respond to bipartisan calls to have a completely open and transparent process," the Nevada Republican said.

The panel formally known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction met for the first time Thursday. Members offered opening remarks and adopted rules for how they will conduct their business over the next three months.

Heller led a news conference before the meeting with a handful of other Republican lawmakers urging transparency.

"We are opposed to inside baseball and that is what we are seeing with this supercommittee," Heller said. "Private meetings have already been held, and I want that to stop. We want the public to have access to meetings ... all meetings especially during the decision-making process."

Heller was joined at the news conference by Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., David Vitter, R-La., Mike Lee, R-Utah, Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla.

Heller and Buchanan introduced legislation to require all proceedings of the committee to be held in public. Heller and Vitter have also introduced legislation to require supercommittee members to report to the Federal Election Commission within 48 hours of receiving campaign contributions.

Committee co-leaders Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said during the organizing meeting that standard House and Senate rules would apply. The rules also do not include any requirement for timely disclosure by members of campaign contributions they receive while the committee is active.

"As we proceed, like any other committee in Congress, there will be public hearings. There will be ample opportunities for the public to have their opinions heard. And like any other committee of Congress, there will also be some discussions among members that will not be public. However, no final product will be adopted without ample public notice and a public vote," Hensarling said in his opening remarks.

Heller said he would keep an open mind when it comes to supporting whatever legislation emerges from the super committee but thinks a better product would result from a more open process.

J. Adam Skaggs, a senior counsel at New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice, said that because the supercommittee has extraordinary powers, it should do more to ensure public confidence.

The committee has until Thanksgiving to produce a bill that would reduce federal deficits over the next decade by at least $1.2 trillion. The bill would then go to the House and Senate, where it would be considered without amendment.

"With the importance of their task it is vitally important the process they use is viewed by the public as open, transparent and legitimate," Skaggs said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at purban@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.