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David Dreier's Call for Cameras in the Rules Committee

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, November 9 2010

Friday's well-publicized call by Rep. David Dreier for livestreaming cameras to be installed inside the hearing room of the House Rules Committee he'll presumably soon head gives us an angle on a tension bubbling up between fierce Democrats who also happen to be open government advocates and the both newly-minted and established Republicans who are eager to put themselves forward in the public eye as bringers of a new era of public transparency. On the one hand, those Democrats are supportive of tweaking the structures of Congress to advance the ball forward. But at the same time, their blood starts to boil with the idea of helping Republicans get credit as transparency heros, and possible advancing a notion of representative government that they don't agree with. Dreier's letter to Chief Administrative OfficerDan Strodel actually captures the dynamic:

As you may be aware, the Committee on Rules is the only Committee -- other than the Intelligence and Ethics committees -- which does not have the ability to broadcast video of its proceedings in its main hearing room. Given the important nature of our work, my Republican Rules Committee colleagues and I have repeatedly requested that the Majority undertake the installation of cameras in the Rules Committee hearing room to the end that the Committee begin webcasting its proceedings. The Republican Members feel strongly that the American people should have the ability to watch the Committee in action.

Democrats will complain loudly that Republicans only found religion on the live online streaming of Rules Committee hearings after they lost control of the House back in 2006. Beyond that, most of the actual action of the Rules Committee, which serves the immensely powerful role in the House of shaping how bills are actually brought to the floor for final vote, happens outside of the formal hearing context. C-SPAN, Democrats on the Hill says, show up and broadcast any Rules Committee hearing where anything of actual consequence gets done, like what happened with the health care bill. All the rest is rather boring stuff. (Watching "paint drying," says one Hill Democrat.)

That's not to say that it wouldn't be a good thing, all things considered, for there to exist a webcast of Rules Committee hearings, even if no one ever watched it. And Dreier's call is perhaps a unique opportunity. The majority has an interest in keeping what happens in that committee a bit hush-hush, given that its plays a major role in any House majority's strategy for what gets to the House floor and eventually passes through the chamber. In Dreier, you have someone who is both likely to become chair and who is making a public move for the cameras. Democrats gripe that he's doing it for the cameras, but at the same time think it's probably ultimately a good thing that Dreier gets his way. It might sound petty to those of us living outside the Hill bubble, but it's still a tension that's going to come into play as Republicans make a bid to advocate for open government while Democrats watch with a mixture of admiration and deep-seated pique.