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Despite several meetings, Supercommittee's 'progress' unclear

The 12 members of the deficit supercommittee met again yesterday for more than six hours to discuss a way forward in achieving the $1.5 trillion in cuts required by the Budget Control Act in an effort to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.  The members don't plan another full meeting until early next week.

Aides say that the meeting discussed non-health mandatory proposals, and members were treated to a presentation on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.  The prior day’s meeting focused on tax reform, among other things.

And while committee members have met behind closed doors five times (and had three open hearings), not a single committee member has even hinted at what the discussions have produced, only using vague adjectives such as "constructive," "positive," and "productive," while not at all describing what "progress" they are actually making.

"No, I won't [be answering questions], but I thank you for asking," Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) told reporters after yesterday’s meeting. "Again, I think you all know the rules. If you want to talk to somebody talk to our two co-chairmen, thanks."

But speaking with supercommittee co-chairs Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) has brought no substantive details for public consumption.  After a number of the closed-door meetings and open hearings, both Murray and Hensarling have come out with short, on-camera, statements saying the committee is making progress, but taking no questions.

Yesterday, Murray failed again to shed light on what "progress" was achieved during the meeting. "It went very good, very productive day," Murray told reporters, as she scurried away from the meeting. "I am not going to discuss any of the details. We had a really good day, though."

When asked specifically what members mean by the mantra "making progress," committee member Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) tried to explain without actually explaining.

"Well, there's a lot of complicated issues, so progress is measured in different ways," he said. "But one would be simply getting through the material and, you know, getting the same level of knowledge across all members." 

Asked if he felt the group would make the Nov. 23rd deadline, Portman contemplated his response and looked to the ground before simply saying, "We're making progress."

Sen. John Kerry (R-MA) took time to tell reporters that the committee is "getting into the real meat of things," but decided not to elaborate, explaining, "I'm not going to discuss the actual negotiations." 

Asked if he thought the committee was living up to the promise of being transparent, Kerry responded, "We're living up to the commitment of getting the job done to the American people."

According the rules agreed upon by the committee last month, the committee shall "provide audio and video coverage of each hearing or meeting for the transaction of business in a manner that allows the public to easily listen to and view the proceedings." 

Aides say that these "meetings" are actually not meetings at all, but "discussions," and don't fall under those rules.

It's understandable that members of the supercommittee are mum on details regarding their negotiations, as debating such contentious issues as entitlement cuts and revenue raises in public would make their job in the meeting room harder. But Congress does not usually lend itself to such a tight-lipped operation.

Often ideas are leaked to members and staffs to gauge interest within Congress, or if one side particularly disagrees with a stance the other side is taking. Both the House and Senate will have to vote on whatever the committee decides to put out, so building a plan that can muster votes on both sides is key. 

What's unclear is whether the supercommittee is anywhere close to the point where they even have a plan to share with their members or if they’re actually making any real “progress.”