Lawmakers Seek Transparency From Supercommittee The 12 members of the newly formed congressional committee are charged with finding more than $1 trillion in budget savings this fall. Their clout could attract extra attention from special interest groups, and some lawmakers are demanding greater accountability for the money the panel's members take in.
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Lawmakers Seek Transparency From Supercommittee

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Lawmakers Seek Transparency From Supercommittee

Lawmakers Seek Transparency From Supercommittee

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Twelve senators and representatives hold rare power this fall. If their special committee can find a bipartisan plan to reduce the deficit, Congress will vote it up or down without changes. Even if they don't agree, significant budget cuts kick in affecting interest groups all across America. Many of the lawmakers involved were already quite powerful, which means they have attracted many campaign contributions, which makes some of their colleagues unhappy, as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana has a mixed voting record when it comes to campaign finance reform. But he is adamant about making the six Republicans and six Democrats on the deficit reduction supercommittee more accountable.

SENATOR DAVID VITTER: They have before them only everything in the federal budget and everything in the U.S. tax code. It's enormous power. It's an enormous role. And obviously everybody in Washington, D.C. and beyond, every special interest, is going to be lobbying them.

WELNA: And possibly making generous contributions at the many fundraisers that members of the supercommittee have scheduled this fall.

ROB PORTMAN: I've canceled a bunch of fundraisers, just because of time.

WELNA: That's Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, a member of the supercommittee.

PORTMAN: I'm not able to spend as much time doing anything right now because of the committee responsibilities.

WELNA: Still, you don't see any ethical problem with this?

PORTMAN: Well, I'll leave that up to others. Every member needs to decide.

WELNA: Earlier this week, Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry told the Boston Globe he'd decided not to do any fundraising while he serves on the supercommittee. But possibly out of deference to colleagues who do plan to raise funds, Kerry downplayed his decision not to when I asked him about it.

JOHN KERRY: I think that too much is being made out of that. People are doing business here in the United States Senate all the time. And unfortunately, because of the nature of politics, they have to raise money too. So I'm not going to get into that discussion.

WELNA: Other members of the supercommittee say they have no plans to alter their fundraising schedules. Republican Dave Camp is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

My view is anything that was scheduled before I was appointed to the supercommittee, I'm going to continue with that schedule and I'm not going to add any new items in a fundraising capacity to my schedule.

And California Democrat Xavier Becerra points out that unlike senators, who face re-election every six years, he and other House members have campaigns to finance every two years.

XAVIER BECERRA: The moment someone says to me my opponents will stop raising money or I get a pass from having to pay for the campaign activities I have to undertake to get elected, is a moment I say hallelujah, I'm ready to stop having to raise money for any election. But until then, I think it's important for me to do everything that I've done in the past and do it as transparently and as openly as I've always done it.

WELNA: Campaign finance watchdogs say holding fundraisers is not so much the issue. The problem, says Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, is that because of reporting rules, nobody will know who gave supercommittee members money and how much, until mid-January, two months after it completes its work. Allison says that helps special interests give money more discreetly.

BILL ALLISON: Even if you're not having a fundraiser, they can write you a check. I mean, it's not like you have to have an event for somebody to send you some money. I think it's disclosing the contributions that's really important, and that's what we have to see from these members while they're sitting on this committee.

WELNA: Which is why Iowa House Democrat Dave Loebsack teamed up with another House Democrat as well as a Republican colleague last week to introduce the Deficit Committee Transparency Act. It calls for the supercommittee to create a website where any meetings with lobbyists would have to be posted within 48 hours. Loebsack says campaign contributions would also have to be reported.

DAVE LOEBSACK: Whatever they receive, in terms of $500 or above, to themselves or to their leadership political action committees, I want that reported within 48 hours.

WELNA: Have you gotten any positive response from leadership in the House to bringing this legislation up and having it voted on?

LOEBSACK: We haven't heard from leadership on either side of the aisle yet.

WELNA: And a letter Loebsack sent the supercommittee's co-chairmen asking them to adopt the 48 hour rule has gone unanswered.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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