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Boehner Should Broadcast Lobbyist Meeting on America Speaking Out Website

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Yesterday, Roll Call reported that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) will meet with an elite group of lobbyists next week to hear "their suggestions for a new GOP agenda."

The meeting, which is scheduled for July 16, is hardly surprising on its own. Republican lawmakers have habitually huddled with lobbyists to formulate their opposition to President Obama's policies, so it's only natural that they would take a similar approach to crafting their own platform.

It is, however, astounding that Republicans have the nerve to hold a private meeting with lobbyists under the guise of "America Speaking Out" -- the party's feckless initiative to solicit ideas from the American public:

The meeting is part of the House leaders' initiative called America Speaking Out, which is intended to draw broad input to create a new policy agenda for the party to launch in the fall.

An e-mail invitation sent to more than 20 trade representatives and obtained by Roll Call summoned guests to Boehner's second-floor office on July 16 "to discuss House Republican efforts to produce a new policy agenda with a small group of trade association leaders."

Invitees included Dan Danner, head of the National Federation of Independent Business; Bruce Josten, top lobbyist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Jay Timmons of the National Association of Manufacturers; and Joe Stanton of the National Association of Home Builders.

Republicans are justifying the powwow by calling it "an opportunity to hear from America's job creators." Nonetheless, a closed-door meeting with high-powered lobbyists clearly violates the principles on which America Speaking Out was conceived.

Here's how Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the chairman of America Speaking Out, introduced the project back in May:

This is our effort, a Republican effort, to change the course of history and the policies in Washington, to return to 300 million Americans their voice in the way they are governed. We recognize that Americans don't want an agenda imposed on them from Washington. They know that the best ideas don't come from Washington. They come from the people.

[...]

But instead of debates behind closed doors, which has happened far too often in the last 18 months, we're throwing open the doors and letting a little sunshine in. We're giving Americans an opportunity to have their voices heard.

Boehner, who routinely complains about "backroom deals," added that America Speaking Out would allow the American people to have their ideas "debated and discussed on the merits in an open forum."

But next week's sit-down does not reflect that spirit of openness. The invitees are longtime beltway insiders from the same interest groups that have dominated American politics for years. It's difficult to argue that their sway with Congressman Boehner and the Republican Party does anything to "return to 300 million Americans their voice." (The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, is bankrolled by a remarkably small group of donors.)

If Republicans were ever serious about creating an open forum, they now have a great opportunity to prove it: Boehner should broadcast his discussion with the lobbyists on the America Speaking Out website.

By streaming the meeting online, Republicans can show that they have changed since they last had power under President Bush -- that they would govern openly instead of bowing down to special interests.

That may sound like an unreasonable request, but if a lobbyist-love-fest is consistent with the mission of America Speaking Out, then the public should be invited to participate. And if the purpose of the meeting is really to discuss job creation, then why shouldn't the American people hear what the employers have to say?

The choice for Republicans is simple. They can "open the doors" and deliver on the promise of America Speaking Out, or they can admit that they only answer to lobbyists and their ongoing outreach to regular Americans is a sham.

Cross-posted at PoliticalCorrection.org