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For Super Committee, Mum’s the Word

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
After today’s deficit committee meeting, co-Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling slipped out a back door while co-Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray told reporters, “I’m not going to discuss any details.”

The rules also state that to the “maximum extent practicable,” the committee shall “provide audio and video coverage of each hearing or meeting for the transaction of business in a manner that allows the public to easily listen to and view the proceedings,” and “maintain the recordings of such coverage in a manner that is easily accessible to the public.”

To date, Members have had more meetings behind closed doors than they have in public, and most requests for comment have either been met with no answer or vague “We’re making progress” sound bytes.

Sources close to the committee say that the panel is operating under the normal rules of any other Congressional committee, that private discussions happen regularly and that the group is committed to being transparent in public hearings, votes and in posting legislative language, when Members have it. “Meeting” as outlined in the rules is not the same as “less formal caucuses or working sessions,” as Murray highlighted in a back-and-forth with Hensarling in the group’s first public hearing.

Indeed, the super committee seems more focused on getting work done than in outlining that work to the media.

“To make progress, the members of this committee need to get around the bargaining table and speak frankly about what they’re willing to put on that table and what compromises they are willing to make to get a bipartisan deal,” an aide to a committee member said. “And like every bipartisan group that has looked at this issue before them, some of that is going to have to happen behind closed doors.” 

When asked whether the super committee was keeping its commitment to transparency, Sen. John Kerry responded that the panel was keeping its commitment to getting “work done.”

“We feel like we’re getting to the meat of things,” the Massachusetts Democrat said.

When the co-chairmen laid out the group’s ground rules in the super committee’s first public session, Murray made it clear that although the lawmakers would strive for as much transparency as possible, they reserved the right to discuss matters privately, like any other Congressional panel.

“I believe the American people deserve to have full access to committee business the way they do with every committee here in Congress, and I believe these rules will allow us to do exactly that,” Murray said in the Sept. 8 session. “We looked at how House and Senate committees operate, and we worked together to make sure this committee met publicly but also had the ability to meet just among Members to discuss important issues.”

Key outside players are keeping silent as well, creating a protective bubble around this fall’s all-important panel. When talking with the media, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he prefers to let the group do its work and is not trying to influence it. Moreover, leadership in both chambers had been too focused on legislation to avoid government shutdown to really weigh in on the super committee’s progress.

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