Nothing says “good morning” quite like trying to find $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.
For its third meeting, the 12-member, deficit-reduction committee gathered in the U.S. Capitol today for an early, closed-door breakfast over orange juice, coffee, pastries and bacon to talk about how it can achieve a plan for deficit reduction by Thanksgiving.
After emerging from the meeting, the co-chairs of the debt committee were scant on details about what nitty-gritty was discussed. Rather, they seemed to use this morning’s breakfast as more of a getting-to-know-you meeting, even as all the members have called for quick work with a November deadline and the threat of the trigger options looming.
“It’s the first opportunity many of us have had to meet in an unofficial setting,” committee co-chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said. “And every member today is ready to roll up their sleeves and get about the tough business of deficit reduction. We know it will not be fun, we know it will not be easy, it will not be popular.”
Co-chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., echoed those feelings that a breakfast was a nice preliminary setting for the committee to come together on a personal level.
“We had an excellent opportunity this morning to meet and get to know each other and I think we all came away that this is a committee, bicameral, from all walks of life from every side of the country that understands the importance and the weight of the decisions we need to make,” Murray said.
This is the third formal meeting of the committee tasked with identifying $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction by Nov. 23, as born out of negotiations on the debt-ceiling deal. The first meeting last week was largely administrative in nature. The second committee meeting, on Tuesday of this week, featured a testimony from Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf about the past drivers of the nation’s deficits and debt.
Today’s meeting was largely about the interpersonal relationships among the members. The co-chairs had never even met before they were tasked in August to head the committee.
In statements made by both co-chairs today, they noted that they “stand at the ready to get to work.” The real work has yet to start. So, naturally, about 70 days before their deadline, the co-chairs were asked then when they will actually get to work.
“We will be putting out our schedule, hopefully, today,” Murray replied as she walked away.
Much hay has been made about the committee’s transparency. Two of the three meetings have been open to cameras thus far. Today’s was the first behind closed doors, generating statements from other members of Congress.
“I’m disappointed that they’ve decided to yet again ignore the American people’s right to know and have instead resigned to more inside-baseball negotiations,” Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said Wednesday. “It is my fear that this first closed-door meeting will be the first of many. Given the extraordinary jurisdiction of this committee, meetings should be held in full daylight for the public to see.”
The co-chairs have said they will open hearings to cameras but in order to do the tough negotiating that needs to be done, some meetings have to be private.
Hensarling said today’s breakfast meeting was closed for a reason. “We like to eat breakfast without a camera in our face,” he said.