"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?
"The task of bipartisan deficit reduction won't be easy, but it's essential," Hensarling said at the hearing's outset.
"We can still come together, put politics aside, and solve the problem that's plaguing our country," offered Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the committee's other co-chair, who will take turns leading the meetings with Hensarling.
"None of us sitting here are so important or so permanent that we can ignore the demands of history or the demands of the moment," Sen. John Kerry (R-Mass.) reminded everyone.
After about 45 minutes of meeting time, the panel unanimously approved a noncontroversial list of rules, including requirements that approved proposals be posted online and that, "to the maximum extent possible," audio and video of hearings should be provided to the public. It was nothing out of the ordinary.