Supercommittee operating in secret

By Jake Sherman and Matt Dobias for Politico

The supercommittee has become supersecret about most of what it’s doing.

On Tuesday, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) encapsulated the attitude of the members of the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee: “I don’t want to discuss what we discussed.”

As 12 lawmakers tackle the historic task of slashing at least $1.2 trillion from the nation’s deficit, they have spent lots of time behind closed doors, speaking almost nothing of their proceedings while leaving behind little more than a trail of sandwich wrappers and unanswered questions.

It’s a remarkable show of secrecy after an election year that ushered in nearly 90 new Republicans who rejected the idea that sweeping legislation would be authored outside the public view.

Tuesday was the second straight closed-door day for the supercommittee.

The panel met for roughly 6½ hours in the Capitol, and when its members left, they wouldn’t answer basic, innocuous questions about the policies they were discussing nor specify when the next meeting would take place.

After the lawmakers left, staff seemed to clear the room of paperwork so as to leave no trace of evidence about how they were tackling the grave task of saving the nation’s fiscal health. They didn’t, however, clean up the dozens of napkins, used plates, potato-chip wrappers and plates strewn throughout the room. They left those for the custodians to pick up.

Nobody took questions — the supercommittee members rarely do. And when their meetings let out, they make a bipartisan dash for the exits.

Asked whether the committee was living up to the promise of transparency, Kerry said that they’re “living up to the commitment of getting the job done for the American people.” He said “some” meetings will be open, “some will not.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) ran down a set of stairs, declining to talk, saying he had to catch a flight. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) ducked reporters as he exited. Rep. Dave Camp, the Michigan Republican who chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee, left using a back exit. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) drew a crowd of reporters as he walked up a flight of stairs, sidestepping any questions about policy.

“Right now, as you know, we have a lot of meetings, a lot of conversations,” he said. “We’re going to continue that next week. We met for seven hours today, seven hours yesterday, so we’re just going to keep at it.”

Asked by a reporter whether or not the level of detail behind closed doors matched what the members shared publicly, Van Hollen chuckled. “Let’s not get into the details right now on that question,” he said. “We’re having a healthy exchange of views.”

Senators were no different. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who exited the meeting from a side door, followed a staffer to at least one dead end before they reversed course and found an escalator.

Asked whether he would stop to answer a few questions, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said, “No I won’t, but thank you for asking.”

“I think you all know the rules,” Kyl said to reporters. “If you want to talk to somebody, talk to our two co-chairmen. Thank you.”

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  1. Richard Heckler on October 1, 2011 at 9:31 pm

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