Monday, July 2, 2007

Is Rules Chairwoman Louise M. Slaughter Out Of Line

The following might be a little too inside the beltway for most of us, but the writers at this site are supposed to be Watching Those We Chose. One way to do that is to visit committee websites on a sort of regular basis.

Last week David All of TechRepublican.Com, citing a CQ article by Jonathan Allen, kicked off a interesting email exchange. According to Allen, it seems David Dreier, the Ranking Member of the Rules Committee, recently complained that

Democrats are blocking money to create a separate committee Web page for the minority even though the right to one is stipulated in the House administration handbook. . . . Frustrated by a lack of cooperation from Rules Chairwoman Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., Dreier wrote a letter Thursday informing her that he intends to take it up with the Administration Committee.

"While I regret having to take such a drastic action, your intransigence on this matter leaves me no other choice," Dreier wrote.
When told of the letter Slaughter replied: "Oh God, does he ever stop whining?"

A Republican, All, who has been working hard on the bipartisan OpenHouseProject, took offense to Slaughter's response.
As one of the key contributors to the bipartisan Open House Project report which has been endorsed by Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, and Republican Leader Boehner, it troubles me deeply to learn that Rep. Louise Slaughter thinks that "allowing" citizen-access to both perspectives of a Committee's work is a laughing matter.
Joshua Tauberer of responded with a couple of pretty good observations.
I never understood why there were minority committee websites at all. It's very strange, from the naive public's point of view ( i.e. where I was with respect to committees about a year ago), why the committees have to be so split along party lines that there is a majority website and a minority website. Is it two committees or one? Does the chair squash all minority positions/efforts to such an extent that the main committee website represents not the committee as a whole, per se, but only those that agree with the chair? Where do independents fit in?

Let's say the minority party didn't get its own committee website. Wouldn't that force the committee to be a little less partisan, i.e. to act as a committee, not a pulpit for the chair?
In actual practice it seems some committees don't really need minority websites. Chris Kinnin noted that the AG committee is all about protecting some existing government programs. Party isn't very important in that setting so no minority committee is needed.

Bob Bluey pointed out that some committees have absolutely outstanding websites with links to both majority and minority pages. The EPW website is a perfect example of committee members working together to make sure each side has a fair opportunity to get it's message out. You go to one main site and are directed to either the majority page or the minority page.

Clay Shirkey believes the minority is entitled to a website for the "same reason the minority gets to issue opinions on the Supreme Court--sometimes the individual arguments matter more than the consensus that is reached." In answer to Joshua's thought that if the minority wasn't allowed it's own website the committee would be a little less partisan, Clay said, "no, because the website has no force. Having just one website means that the consensus view, no matter how bitterly fought and narrowly won, becomes the only view."

I was tending to agree with Clay when Joshua brought me up short. In response to Clay, Joshua wrote
Well, wait, I agree with the statement in your conclusion that minority opinions are important. What I'm questioning is whether putting minority opinions on an independent website is a good thing. What you get is the official/main website bleached of any indication the committee is comprised of anyone but the chair because they have no reason to include any other views, knowing that the other views have another venue.
So if there was only one official website per committee the chair might feel obligated to operate the site in a less partisan manner. He certainly has no reason to feel anything other than partisan if he knows the minority is served by its own minority website. If you think about it most people only go to the main website. An independent minority website might actually reduce exposure of minority positions. I wonder if any of us go to minority committee websites on a regular basis? I don't. Do you?

What do you all think? Is David Dreier a whiner? Is Louise Slaughter losing a chance to limit his effectiveness while giving him a chance to whine? Or both?