Throughout the day on Tuesday, a smattering of political reporters leaned up against walls in the basement of the Capitol Visitors Center. Inside room HVC200, the 12-member supercommittee, tasked with reshaping the nation's tax code, social safety net and approach to war, was meeting in secret.
"I don’t want to discuss what we discussed," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) told the gathered reporters, as recorded by Politico.
“I think you all know the rules,” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told the group, according to Roll Call. “If you want to talk to somebody, talk to our two co-chairmen."
"They have had a series of member meetings and will continue to do so while also holding public hearings," a spokesperson for Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), one of the two chairs, told HuffPost on Tuesday when asked about the private meeting, which lasted most of the day.
The other panel members, according to media reports, were equally mum about what went on inside the room. "They were running through a whole series of cats and dogs," an aide to a Democratic member told HuffPost.
Of the six significant meetings the Super Congress has held, only two have been public -- one to allow members to read prepared opening statements.
After public pressure that the panel meet in public, its rules were written to say that the meetings “shall be open to the public and the media unless the Joint Select Committee, in open session and a quorum being present, determines by majority vote that such hearing or meeting shall be held in closed session,” Roll Call noted.
Just how much the supercommittee's deliberations matter, however, remains in doubt. The driving motivation behind the committee is a series of "automatic, across-the-board cuts" that will go into effect if the panel deadlocks. But, as HuffPost reported Tuesday, those cuts don't begin to take effect until 2013, meaning that Congress will have more than a year -- a time span that includes a lame duck Congress -- to reverse itself:
The automatic cuts -- known as sequestration -- are often discussed in Washington as if they're certain, an inevitability that Congress won't be able to prevent. But on the same day those cuts would go into effect, the Bush tax rates, which President Obama extended for two years, are set to expire, leading to an "automatic" tax hike that is treated in Washington as anything but inevitable. (That the two coming policy changes are approached so differently -- cuts are expected; expiring tax breaks for the wealthy are brushed aside -- is a window into Washington's priorities.)
A host of other tax cuts and credits will expire on the same day, including the alternative minimum tax, ethanol tax credits, renewable energy credits and others important to businesses, the wealthy and the middle class.
A lame duck Congress would have two months after the 2012 election to stave off the expiration of both that tax policy and the super committee's "automatic" cuts.
The most likely scenario: The super committee locks up along partisan lines and, after the 2012 election, bipartisan negotiators deal with the tax cuts and the super committee's sequestration cuts, along with a basket of other expiring provisions, in one set of negotiations. Democrats will be pressured by the coming sequestration, while Republicans will be motivated by the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. And all of their negotiations will take place in a political and economic climate impossible to predict today.
Ryan Grim contributed reporting
WATCH: Grim spoke on MSNBC's "The Last Word" on the super committee:
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