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Members of the committee have suggested that they will have a mix of open and closed meetings.

“I’ve already had a number of conversations with Democrats and Republicans who are on the committee, and I think that’s expected, and I think that’s healthy for us to have conversations among ourselves,” said Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, as quoted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. “There will be individual conversations. I’m sure there will be groups of senators and groups of members of the House who will be speaking periodically. So I think there needs to be a good balance here where people have input, people feel like it’s a transparent process, but we also are able to have a candid exchange with colleagues.”

A hybrid approach could bring its own problems. One staffer who worked on the commission said members often would avoid talking about key spending and tax issues in public meetings just so they didn’t ruin backroom negotiations that were going on at the same time.

“There were only a few times that members were really honest,” the staffer said of the public meetings and hearings.

Congress has moved steadily toward more openness, and most committee hearings and markups are now webcast.

Closed-door negotiations have a long and storied history, going back to the 1787 convention that drafted the Constitution. All of the proceedings that summer in Philadelphia were kept secret throughout, and most delegates took the obligations seriously — so much so that several refused to let their notes be published until after they died, decades later.

Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, chairwoman of the political science department at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, has written a book, “Stealth Democracy,” that says most voters don’t want to see Congress in action.

“These Americans would much rather have Congress do its work behind closed doors so long as their representatives are not being bought by special interests and so long as the public has the opportunity to learn about decisions, the reasons for and against them, and why their representatives decided what they did,” she said.

She said transparency is “often good, but not in this case,” because lawmakers would have to spend so much time defending their ideas against attacks from interest groups.

“If the supercommittee had to air every idea in public, it would be a disaster,” she said.