Supercommittee members vote to allow some panel meetings to be secret

The deficit supercommittee is leaving open the option of holding closed-door meetings, despite calls from many lawmakers for complete transparency.

Under a rules package that was unanimously approved during the first supercommittee meeting, the 12-member panel can go into a secret meeting if a majority of seven members agrees to do so. Otherwise, meetings are to be held in public.

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Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), one of the committees co-chairmen, acknowledged in his opening statement to the supercommitee that “there will be some discussions among members that will not be public,” but assured the gathering that all votes will be public.

“I believe the American people deserve to have full access to committee business the way they do with every committee here in Congress. I believe these rules will allow us to do exactly that,” co-chairman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said, adding that they allow members to meet privately to discuss important issues.

Murray, in a colloquy with Hensarling, confirmed that informal meetings are not covered by the majority-vote requirement.

The first meeting was interrupted by a large noisy protest in the hallway by Code Pink activists exclaiming, “What do we want? Jobs!” The protest stopped Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) from completing his opening statement, in part because the room door could not be closed.

Hensarling in his opening statement to the group called on it to tackle large entitlement reform. He quoted President Obama as saying Medicare and Medicaid are the major drivers of our long-debt.

“I agree,” he said.

Hensarling also said he hopes the group will contribute to pro-growth tax reform.

In her opening statement, Murray said she is glad no member has so far taken any item off the table, and emphasized that a final product will have to be based on compromise.

Her statement emphasized that job growth would contribute to reducing the deficit. Murray has called for the supercommittee to look at economic stimulus.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) used his statement to call on the supercommittee to take on tax reform as well, while Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said it must tackle the jobs deficit.

In their remarks, Camp and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) also called for tax reform.

It was clear from the panels opening statements that Republican members have decided to pursue tax reform in the supercommmittee while Democrats will push for job creation.

The supercommittee, created by the debt-ceiling deal, has until Nov. 23 to agree on at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over the next decade, with an ultimate goal of $1.5 trillion in cuts. If the panel doesn’t make the deadline for the $1.2 trillion in cuts, automatic cuts in that amount to defense and domestic discretionary spending will be enacted starting in January 2013.

This story was posted at 10:23 a.m. and has been updated.