Closed Door Congress

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U.S. Capitol – Illustration by Emily Metcalf

BY TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE – Transparency, accountability, results. That’s what citizens across the country want from their government. The ridiculously low approval ratings for Congress clearly demonstrates that the public isn’t getting what it wants and deserves.

In an effort to move things along, lawmakers often claim they need to work behind closed doors, revealing a final product at the last minute and jamming it through the Capitol. But bad process generally leads to bad results. And bad process is not just the Gang of whatever huddling behind closed doors trying come up with some massive policy proposal. It’s also lawmakers actively avoiding the scrutiny and accountability that comes with the normal legislative process.


It’s like Congress has decided that they love all the benefits of public office, except the public part. Agriculture policy leaders from both chambers are currently huddled away “pre-conferencing” (unofficially meeting) a farm bill even though the House bill passed chamber without debate or a chance at amendment and is only one-fifth the size of the Senate companion. House leadership duped their colleagues with the ole’ bait-and-switch by telling them they would split the nutrition programs away from the rest of the bill and pass them separately. But like the liquid metal terminators from movie fame the plan is to bring the pieces back together in conference while keeping the paltry savings and bad policy.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee leadership is patting itself on the back telling everyone that they have drafted an earmarks free water project and policy bill. You’re just going to have to trust them on that considering they left town without releasing the legislation. This bill could easily score in the $20 billion vicinity, but no one will see it until days before it gets voted on in committee and then rushed to the floor.

Then there’s the really big deals. Every couple months it seems some rumor surfaces that this, that, or the other lawmaker is talking about some grand bargain on the budget impasse. Yet every time they emerge from the back room empty handed. You also have the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Finance Committee promising that they would keep their colleagues’ tax reform correspondence secret for 50 years! Wow, what a profile in courage. Tell us what you won’t say in public. I’m sure lobbying interests are super-excited about the prospect of back room tax reform.

But let’s be fair. Lawmakers do have a game plan. It seems they have taken inspiration from the NFL’s kids competition “Punt, Pass, and Kick.” They punt on decisions, pass the buck, and kick the can down the road at every opportunity. So now much of the government is operating under a stop gap continuing resolution that mindlessly extends spending decisions made two years ago. A farm bill extension and tax breaks benefiting NASCAR and the world’s largest liquor conglomerate caught a ride on the end of the New Year’s eve fiscal cliff deal. No one can come up with a palatable alternative to the across-the-board sequestration cuts and spending cap levels established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 so these indiscriminate cuts are just happening. And of course, it’s always the other guys fault.

The American taxpayer has had enough of the finger pointing, blame game, business as usual politics. So Congress, why don’t you try something different? Super Committees, Gangs, and smoke filled room shenanigans have failed. So let’s do the opposite. Open up and legislate in public. Make some tough choices. Just say no to special interests. Then maybe you’ll see approval ratings that are higher than the voting age and we can make government work.