Debt-reduction 'supercommittee' hid in plain sight

By RICHARD LARDNER | November 22, 2011 | 3:20 AM EST

FILE - In this Sept. 13, 2011, file photo the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction meets to hear from Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf about the national debt, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Failure by Congress’ debt-cutting supercommittee to recommend $1.2 trillion in savings by Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011, is supposed to automatically trigger spending cuts in the same amount to accomplish that job. But the same legislators who concocted that budgetary booby trap just four months ago could end up spending the 2012 election year and beyond battling over defusing it. From left to right on bottom are: Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, co-chair, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., co-chair, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. From left on top row are Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The deficit-reduction supercommittee failed to produce a $1.2 trillion debt-cutting package. But the panel did succeed in conducting virtually all of its negotiations in private, despite the impact its work would have had on the American public.

After being formed in August, the bipartisan congressional panel held just a handful of open sessions. The meat of the supercommittee's work, which involved arguments and give-and-take proposals over the future shape of politically sensitive programs, took place behind closed doors.

Advocates of open government criticized the approach. They said no one could be sure what role lobbyists and special interest groups played behind the scenes. Fundamental shifts in American law and policy might have emerged from what one public interest advocate called a "legislative black box."