The last time we checked in on this promise was right after the Jan. 5, 2011, passage of a new House rules package.
The new rules stated that, "To the maximum extent practicable, each committee shall (A) provide audio and video coverage of each hearing or meeting for the transaction of business in a manner that allows the public to easily listen to and view the proceedings; and (B) maintain the recordings of such coverage in a manner that is easily accessible to the public."
Many, but not all, House committees were already broadcasting hearings on the Internet prior to the new rule, and hearings are sometimes broadcast by C-SPAN. The most notable exception was the Rules Committee, a highly influential panel that sets the terms of debate for most of the significant bills that go through the chamber.
The Rules committee now has cameras in the hearing rooms, and, if you go to the House Rules website, you'll find a whole video archive of hearings.
But this was a two-part promise made by Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, in a Sept. 30, 2010, speech on congressional reform that was part of his "Pillars of a New Majority," an outline of how Republicans would govern if they won a majority. The second part was to make transcripts available online.
Unofficial transcripts are readily available upon request, provided the person making the request signs a release acknowledging that the transcript is unofficial and that if the applicant wants to quote something from a hearing, he or she should listen to the online webcast or check with the office of the legislator.
The unofficial transcripts aren't fully accurate, and "we don't feel comfortable putting something inaccurate online," said Jo Maney, a spokeswoman for House Rules Committee Republicans. And due to the volume of hearings, the Rules committee simply doesn't have enough staff resources to produce official transcripts that could be posted online, she said.
Daniel Schuman, policy counsel for the Sunlight Foundation, said that if the Rules committee is concerned about people quoting an unofficial transcript, which may have errors in it, there's an easy fix. It could post unofficial transcripts online but require those who want access to click an online disclaimer acknowledging that they understand the transcript is unofficial and that, if they want to quote it, they ought to confirm the text by watching the video.
"Unofficial transcripts are helpful," Schuman said. "It allows you to do a text search instead of listening to an hour-and-a-half video."
Schuman noted that paid services provide quick unofficial transcripts to those who are willing to pay for them.
"People with money get access to unofficial transcripts the same day," he said.
Maney noted that official records of all hearings are now available via online webcasts, and that was "really the bulk of the promise." That may well be, but Boehner was clear in his speech that Congress "should also require that all committees – especially the Rules Committee – webcast their proceedings and post complete transcripts online." Webcasts may have been the meat of this promise -- and that has been satisfied -- but unless or until all congressional committees post transcripts online, we rate this promise a Compromise.