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Once it was sunshine. The current buzzword for openness in government is transparency. In practice, it means conducting business in public view and access.
Democrats and Republicans alike have espoused the idea publicly, but Ohio Republican John Boehner, Speaker-elect of the House of Representatives, made it his issue in January 2010, when he criticized Democrats for what he called a lack of transparency during debate on health care reform.
"Every issue of national import should be debated by the people's elected representatives in full public view," he said.
A call for more transparent government was part of the "Pledge to America" promoted by congressional Republicans in September. Boehner put particular importance on the installation of cameras in the hearing room of the powerful House Rules Committee, which was included in the House GOP Congressional Transparency Initiative that Boehner introduced.
Now, the GOP Leader Blog on Boehner's website says Republicans have asked House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel to begin installing video cameras in the Rules Committee hearing room.
The House Rules Committee is the only panel, other than the Intelligence and Ethics committees, not able to telecast proceedings in its main hearing room, the posting on Boehner's blog says. He cites language in a formal request by the panel's ranking Republican, David Dreier of California.
PolitiFact Ohio, never willing to miss a chance to do a little House-keeping, made its own call to the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer, which is responsible for the operating infrastructure of Congress.
Dan Weiser, communications director for the chief administrative officer, said it’s true: Rules, Intelligence and Ethics are the only three committees lacking cameras in their main hearing rooms, of 25 committees in the House.
Each committee has its own rules for use of the cameras and for coverage, he added.
In looking at transparency, however, it’s worth noting that C-SPAN, the cable industry's public-affairs network, has upped the ante by asking Boehner for permission to install its own cameras in the main House chamber to cover activities on the floor. C-SPAN now uses the video feed provided by House-owned cameras for its cable telecasts and free online streaming.
Brian Lamb, C-SPAN's founder and chief executive, requested the addition of "a few small robotically operated cameras in the House chamber," and reminded Boehner of his support in January for C-SPAN's request to televise health care negotiations.
"Currently," Lamb wrote in a letter to Boehner, "House floor debates are not in full public view because private news media cameras are still not permitted in the House chamber. Rules established when the House installed its TV cameras in 1979 restrict congressional camera operators to head-on shots of members at the podium and committee tables, and they are prohibited from taking reaction shots or shots of the chamber, leaving viewers with a less-than-complete view of your debates."
C-SPAN, which said it would make its feed available to accredited news organizations, made similar requests to Republican Newt Gingrich in 1994 and Democrat Nancy Pelosi in 2006.
Boehner press secretary Michael Steel responded that the speaker-elect "is committed to making the House more transparent and accountable.
"A number of media outlets, including C-SPAN, have requested the ability to install private cameras in the House chamber," Steel said. "While no decisions have been made at this time, these requests are under review."
But cameras will be installed in the hearing room of the Rules Committee -- which has been the only panel besides the Intelligence and Ethics committees lacking them.
We rate Boehner’s statement as True.
GOP Leader Blog, "House Republicans Move to Have Public Cameras Installed in Powerful Rules Committee," Nov. 5, 2010
Text, "A Pledge to America"
Interview, Dan Weiser, communications director for the House Chief Administrative Officer, Nov. 18, 2010
House of Representatives, Committees
House Radio-Television Correspondents’ Gallery, "Covering Committee Hearings"
House Radio-Television Correspondents’ Gallery, "Committee Room Camera Limit"
C-SPAN, "C-SPAN has a long history of requesting camera access," Nov. 9, 2010
USA Today, On Politics, "C-SPAN asks GOP leader John Boehner for more camera access," Nov. 15, 2010
Yahoo News, "Boehner reviewing requests for cameras in House chamber," Nov. 15, 2010
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