POLITICS
06/28/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Critics Say Deficit Commission Is Too Secretive

President Obama's deficit commission is supposed to be helping establish some sort of national consensus on how to keep the nation's debt manageable in the future. It's not supposed to be cutting secret backroom deals.

But there are concerns from both the left and right that it's not operating in a sufficiently transparent manner.

Sixteen progressive members of Congress, concerned that the commission could mount a stealth attack on critically important social programs, are demanding that the panel operate in the open and not keep its findings secret until after the November elections.

The commission held its first full meeting in public view on Tuesday.

But Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and 15 others have sent a letter to the commission's co-chairs, asking that they allow C-SPAN coverage and Internet streaming of all the panel's meeting and deliberations, including its "working groups" -- the most likely place that deals are going to get cut.

Obama ordered the commission to report its findings no later than December 1. Conyers and the others want at least a draft out before Election Day in November, so it can be part of the wider political discourse.

The idea is to make it as difficult as possible for the commission to put together some sort of legislative proposal that looks so high-minded at first glance that it gains momentum in a lame-duck Congress -- even when, upon close inspection, it would not appeal to most Americans' sense of fairness.

Progressives in particular fear the commission would recommend reducing benefits for Social Security and Medicare.

On the other side of the political spectrum, conservatives are worried that the commission will call for tax increases. As a result, House Minority Leader John Boehner last month sent the commission a similar letter -- at least as far as the request for transparency goes.

And some 77 social service organization asked the commission to operate in the open as well.

UPDATE at 8:25 p.m.: A White House spokesperson e-mails me that there were no meetings of the commission prior to this week's, and that all the meetings will be livestreamed in the future. I'm not entirely sure if that applies to the small-group meetings, however, and I'll follow up. So stay tuned.

READ the letter from the members of Congress:

04-28-10 Conyers Fiscal Commission Transparency Letter

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