The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the Super Committee, held its first public meeting in more than a month and it didn’t take long to see why it may be more productive for the committee to deliberate privately rather than open hearings.
As members of the committee took their seats around the dais and co-chair Sen. Patty Murray prepared to call the meeting to a start, a Code Pink protestor jumped out of his seat holding a sign, drawing the attention of television cameras in the room.
“This committee is not democratic,” the demonstrator said. “I speak on behalf of the 99 percent who are occupied. We are the people who are not being heard by this committee.”
The man sat down as Murray called the committee to order. The Washington Democrat reminded the audience not to demonstrate but she allowed the man decked out in pink clothing to stay.
Later, about 90 minutes into the hearing as CBO director Doug Elmendorf finished answering a question from Rep. Dave Camp, another demonstrator — in an awkward display of gravitas — walked to the front of the room and stood next to the witness table as she called on the committee to “tax the rich and end the war.”
“That’s how we fix the deficit,” the woman said. “And all this obfuscation with percentages of GDP — this is just trying to confuse the issue.”
The woman was arrested and pulled out of the room by U.S. Capitol Police officers. Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the department, says the demonstrator was charged with disruption of Congress and is currently being processed at headquarters.
The rest of the hearing proceeded without a hitch as the committee discussed alternative methods to identify and count savings, analyzing discretionary outlays on security and non-security spending.
Elmendorf said that the economic impact of the country’s unsustainable fiscal path “matters in short-run,” in part due to borrowing the government has already committed, which he said could “crowd out private investment” and is compounded by uncertainty facing American families and small businesses.
“At the moment, with private investment weak anyway, the magnitude of that crowding out is less clear,” he said. “The uncertainty about fiscal policy is probably weighing on households and businesses. They can recognize that there will have to be as a matter of arithmetic changes in taxes and/or spending relative to current policy.”
Rep. Fred Upton, the chairman of the House committee on Energy and Commerce, asked Elmendorf for the latest date the Super Committee could provide a draft to the Congressional Budget Office in order to score the proposal and leave enough time for the panel to vote prior to its Nov. 23 deadline.
Elmendorf warned the 12-member committee that time is running short.
“Our legion of skilled analysts are working very hard for this committee already,” Elmendorf said. “If you have a set of proposals that would make changes across a range of mandatory spending programs, then that would require us some weeks to work with legislative counsel and the staff of this committee in refining the legislative language to accomplish the objectives that your setting out to accomplish, and then for us to produce a cost estimate, and backing up from Thanksgiving, that left us looking at the beginning of November, which we are very aware, as you are Congressman, is not very far away.”
The committee will hold another open hearing next Tuesday, Nov. 1, when the principal architects of two other deficit reduction proposals will testify. Alice Rivlin and former Sen. Pete Dominici will head the first panel while Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles will appear before the committee on a second panel to discuss their alternative packages for savings.