The Supercommittee Meets: Niceties, Shouting, and Business as Usual

The new deficit panel met for the first time, and, unlike the protesters outside, members seemed willing to compromise. So far, so good.

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Updated at 6:18 p.m.

"Jobs!" "Now!" "Jobs!" "Now!"

Ah, the sounds of compromise. After about twenty minutes of conciliatory opening statements offered in a large hearing room at the Rayburn House Office Building on Wednesday, the first official meeting of the new deficit "supercommittee," charged with reducing the national debt by $1.5 trillion, had the makings of a non-event. Microphones had failed, and the tone of the proceedings was business-as-usual, muffled, and low-key.

But as the as the mild Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) delivered his prepared statement in a low voice that was hard to hear anyway, about 15 protesters started shouting just outside the hearing-room door. For 10 minutes, the only audible sounds were "What do we want?!" Jobs!" When do we want them?!" "Now!" "Jobs!" "Now!" "Jobs!" "Now!"

Camp stopped talking, his droopy face turned blankly toward the door. A few CODEPINK members, the typically raucous instigators of Capitol-Hill peace disturbances since the early days of the Iraq war, had sat quietly in the center of the room. They got up and shuffled curiously out of the room. A few reporters followed, one by one.

"Please--" Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), the committee co-chair said. "--Shut the door." Harried staffers in blue suits and crew cuts shoved against the big wooden door panels, to no avail. It bounced back against them, jammed ajar by a cluster of big rubber TV cables duct-taped to the marble floor, a byproduct of HD broadcast. ("It's never a problem if we don't have protests outside," a committee aide would later remark after it was all over.)

"Poor Camp," one reporter offered. Indeed. The soft-voiced, thin-haired representative might be a good prospect for a compromise vote, if the 12-member panel is to agree on anything by Nov. 23. Congress demanded, in the law that saved America from defaulting on its debt, that the committee must vote by that date on a package to shrink the deficit by at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years--by whatever line-item cuts, entitlement reforms, taxes, or dark magic it can invent--otherwise across-the-board spending cuts of $1.2 trillion will take effect.

Camp continued on in futility.

Finally, the staff director for Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a bemused and flustered guy named Russell Sullivan, threw his heft against the door from the outside, wedging it almost closed so his boss could deliver a prepared statement in relative peace. Sullivan spread his arms out across the big wooden panels, body-blocking reporters and citizen-attendees from entering or leaving.

A protest organizer, 23-year-old Valerie Bachelor, told me between shouts that the demonstrators hailed form the group Our DC, made up primarily by members of Washington's 8th Ward, which had canvassed in May against Republican congressmen in Virginia.

"Do you want to get arrested! Then move to the perimeter!" a blue-jacketed Capitol Police officer shouted at a few people clustered near Sullivan under the tall doorframe. Police eventually shooed away the protesters, after 10 minutes of relative mayhem.

Things had been going pretty well before that.

The committee's members, few of them partisan firebrands, had sounded serious and willing to cooperate. Then again, what are we to expect from their very first opening remarks?

Presented by

Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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