Secrets, secrets are no fun; that is, of course, unless you are one of the 26 members of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). Earlier this week, the Senate began debating the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the colossal $602 billion defense authorization bill shaping issues as divisive as the closing of Guantanamo, the Iran nuclear deal, and US-Cuba relations. Once again, SASC has usurped the democratic process by holding the markup of the bill behind closed doors.
At a time when Congress’s approval ratings remain below 20 percent and Americans feel their government accomplishes nothing, it is confounding that SASC would withhold discussion of a bill that authorizes more than half of the federal government’s discretionary spending. Open markups provide, not only the ability to ensure proper accountability, but also the opportunity to demonstrate the consideration and deliberation required when drafting such a massive bill.
SASC subcommittee chairs are able to hold their individual markups in open or closed sessions; however, discussion of the bill markups occurs in closed executive sessions. SASC members, when justifying the need for the closed sessions, argue that the burden of shifting between open and classified sessions is too cumbersome. In addition to the evident disregard this argument demonstrates towards taxpayers, the argument about inconvenience seems exaggerated in light of the fact that the Committee has successfully held partially open sessions in the past.