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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.”

In the super committee’s four weeks of work, the group’s calculus has been simple: 12 Members, five exits out of a meeting room in the Capitol Visitor Center, no comment. 

The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction has held three public meetings and four full-panel private sessions, including on Monday and a 6.5-hour affair today, but it’s unclear what kind of progress is being made or where the group is headed. The bipartisan, bicameral panel has been tasked with finding at least $1.2 trillion in cuts before Thanksgiving, and coalitions of lawmakers in both chambers introduced bills calling for super committee transparency. But given the delicate nature of their discussions, policymakers on the panel seem to be trying to balance shedding light on their work without divulging so much as to jeopardize it.

“I think you all know the rules,” Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl told a pack of reporters today as they chased him down a spiral staircase in the Capitol Visitor Center. The Arizona Republican directed reporters to seek comment from the committee’s co-chairmen, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas).

After today’s marathon meeting, Hensarling slipped out a back door through a hallway blocked off from the media. Murray walked past a bank of cameras only to tell reporters: “I’m not going to discuss any details. We had a really good day though,” as she headed for the exits.

It has long been conventional wisdom surrounding negotiating groups that the more lawmakers involved in talks keep quiet, the more productive those negotiations are. When aides and principals start leaking to the media, that’s usually a sign that discussions inside the room are crumbling or have hit an impasse.

Perhaps cognizant of the gravity of its mission, the group outlined an entire series of rules on “Public Access and Transparency” when it adopted its bylaws by voice vote earlier this month.

According to the panel’s rules, only public hearings must be announced seven days in advance, and each hearing and meeting “shall be open to the public and the media unless the Joint Select Committee, in open session and a quorum being present, determines by majority vote that such hearing or meeting shall be held in closed session.”

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