Conducting the business of the people out in the open so we can actually watch what our lawmakers are doing apparently has made life too difficult for the U.S. Senate. So its new leaders are proposing to take the action behind closed doors where senators could cut deals and trade favors in secret.
The Associated Press reported Friday that incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and new Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, RKy., want to avoid the image of the previous Congress as a “do-nothing” institution. That reputation was enshrined for posterity when the 109th Congress came to an end last week without action on most of the federal budget for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1.
So Reid and McConnell have come up with the idea of a “bipartisan caucus” where all 100 members of the upper chamber could meet out of the sight of those pesky C-SPAN cameras and Washington tourists who keep stopping senators from getting their work done. This would mirror weekly meetings Republicans and Democrats hold separately to discuss agendas and strategies.
Washington officials hold far too many secret meetings among themselves and with lobbyists to discuss legislation and events that affect all of us. But closeddoor sessions of the full Senate actually are quite rare and traditionally are limited to concerns of national security, impeachment deliberations and sensitive messages from the president, the AP said.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, claimed the “bipartisan caucus” wouldn’t be classified as a closed session because “we won’t be transacting legislative business.” Of course, there’s no way for the public to be sure, because what goes on in a “bipartisan caucus” is supposed to be a secret.
This proposal sends a wrong message to Americans and to the world that public debate is too messy and Congress could be more effective if only lawmakers didn’t have anyone looking over their shoulders.
American voters granted Democrats control of the next Congress, in part, because of that party’s pledge to expose more workings of President Bush’s administration and the legislative branch to sunlight. But the leadership of Senate Democrats will be tainted from the start if they accept this attempt to draw a dark curtain over some of the deliberations.