WHEELING - A group of citizens who had planned to present deficit-reduction recommendations to members of Congress late last week, prior to the deadline for the so-called "supercommittee" to find $1.2 trillion in cuts, was denied access to a Senate meeting room.
Wheeling resident Robert A. Miller Jr., a member of Mountaineers for Responsible Government, was among the tea party-affiliated voters who traveled to Washington, D.C., for the scheduled Thursday session. Despite the fact that "hundreds of people" arrived at the Senate's Russell Office Building for the event organized by the FreedomWorks activist group, the meeting was canceled by the Senate Rules Committee about 30 minutes prior to its scheduled 2 p.m. start.
"FreedomWorks encouraged people to come for the meeting in conjunction with the national Tea Party Debt Commission," Miller said. "A panel of 12 people from around the country - successful businessmen - had $9 trillion (in deficit-reduction strategies) over 10 years to present to the supercommittee."
Joel Davis of New Martinsville, left, poses with Robert A. Miller Sr. of Wheeling next to an old Capitol subway car during a trip to Washington, D.C., last week.
According to Miller, participants went to Washington early and visited several members of the House and Senate Thursday morning. He termed the gathering a "well-dressed, civil group" and said members understood that come congressmen would be unable to attend the meeting. Still, they intended to present their ideas to all federal lawmakers who would listen.
But at about 1:30 p.m., Miller said, a man came into the room and said he was canceling the session on behalf of the Rules Committee, calling it a hearing that had not been approved by the committee. He said power and microphones for planned media coverage were disconnected, and the group was forced to find another location for its session.
Hillsdale College, with a location a few blocks away, hosted the event from 3-5 p.m. that day. Miller said Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, who reportedly arranged to hold the meeting in the Russell building, and Rand Paul of Kentucky, as well as Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Mike Pence of Indiana, all attended and took part. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., offered to help draft and sponsor legislation to implement the group's suggested cuts, Miller said.
Joel Davis, a New Martinsville resident and one of three directors of We The People Ohio Valley, also made the trek to Washington Thursday. He was present when security personnel began removing microphones and name placards from the tables in the Russell building where the meeting was set to take place. He said rumors circulated that a suspicious package prompted "evacuation" of the site. Published reports indicate a suspicious package was found in the office of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Sgt. Kimberly Schneider of the Capitol Police said the area was evacuated "as a security and life-safety measure until we could determine that nothing hazardous was found" in Sessions' office next door.
"I don't think they wanted to hear what we had to say," Davis said of the officials who halted the session.