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Congressional Insiders' Feelings Mixed on Secrecy, Outcomes of Super Committee

October 20, 2011

With only its fourth public event scheduled for next week, the super committee has faced grumbling about the secrecy of its meetings and deliberations. Those complaints have come not only from the perhaps predictable direction of open government advocates, but also from members of Congress.

Among the Congressional Insiders surveyed in this week's poll, Democrats expressed greater concern about the committee's secrecy than did Republicans.

"The American people should have been able to see the Republicans standing up for the billionaires," said one Democratic member of Congress. Another asked, "Where are the tea partiers calling for more transparency?"

One Republican member agreed, saying, "I think the public deserves to know more about the deliberations, and members need to know more about what we may be voting on."

Two-thirds of Republican respondents, however, were comfortable with the secrecy of the committee and felt it would add to its effectiveness.

"The people who need to know and must produce the votes - the leadership - are well-informed about the committee's deliberations," said one Republican member. "Members have had a chance for input, as have the impacted interests. Doing more would create chaos for no good purpose."

"For negotiations to reach a conclusion," added another, "the solutions need time to breathe before they are killed in the crib."

Some Democrats agreed. "The Constitutional Convention [of 1787] was all done behind closed doors - to get something done," quipped one.

Even many of those who felt the secrecy was too much acknowledged the role it played in the super committee's function.

"Yes [it's too secretive], but there is really only one way they'll come up with something," said one Democratic member, "and that's by being quiet about the discussions and deliberations."

"It's unavoidable," echoed a Republican respondent. "Otherwise, every special interest would be running ads in the members' districts complaining about their issue. We really don't need all the gory details; just get 'er done!"

If the super committee nevertheless fails to produce a plan by its deadline, Congressional Insiders are divided on what is likely to happen next. According to the design of the super committee deal, failure would automatically trigger large cuts, known as "sequestration," to both the Pentagon and domestic discretionary spending. Some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have suggested that they will seek to nullify the agreement rather than allowing the automatic cuts go into effect.

A majority of the Republican Congressional Insiders surveyed said they anticipated that Congress would find a way to prevent the automatic cuts if the super committee fails.

"I feel confident the super committee will make its goal; hoping for a bit more," said one. "If not, Congress will not allow that level of defense spending [cuts]."

Some Democratic members agreed. "We have until January 2013 before the first automatic cut occurs," said one. "We should be able to give it another try and get it done. The election of 2012 may have an impact and spur us to act."

Another Democratic member took a more jaded view, arguing that the automatic cuts won't be avoided "unless Obama and the Senate D's cave and give the R's everything they want for nothing in return. Oh wait, that probably means yes."

Other Republicans anticipated that the design of the sequestration agreement would stay intact.

"The mandatory cuts are what makes the super committee have to do its job," said one Republican member. "No proposal - all cuts."

"It's time to pay the piper," agreed another. "One way or the other."

The National Journal Congressional Insiders Poll is a regular anonymous survey of Democratic and Republican Members of Congress.

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