A number of press reports suggest today that the Super Committee’s rules permit it to close meetings to the public. Here’s the Hill:
Under a rules package that was unanimously approved during the first supercommittee meeting, the 12-member panel can go into a secret meeting if a majority of seven members agrees to do so. Otherwise, meetings are to be held in public.
This may seem extraordinary, but this is how all Congressional committees work. If they meet to consider national security information, or trade secrets, they’re allowed to have a public vote where they decide to go into closed session. These procedures are laid out in the House and Senate Rules, and apply similarly in both chambers.
The Rules of the House and Senate that govern closing meetings, House Rule XI and Senate Rule XXVI, are actually incorporated into the Rules of the Joint Committee (or “Super Committee”):
2. The rules of the Senate and the House of Representatives, to the extent that they are applicable to committees, including rule XXVI of the Standing Rules of the Senate and clause 2 of rule XI of the Rules of the House of Representatives for the 112th Congress, and do not conflict with the applicable provisions of the Budget Control Act, shall govern the proceedings of the Joint Select Committee.
So they still apply. The committee will only be able to close its official meetings to the public if they vote publicly to do so, and if they have a strong justification. Political inconvenience isn’t among them.
The Super Committee’s just-posted rules do say that the meetings can be shut:
2. Each hearing and meeting of the Joint Select Committee shall be open to the public and the media unless the Joint Select Committee, in open session and a quorum being present, determines by majority vote that such hearing or meeting shall be held in closed session. No vote on the recommendations, report or legislative language of the Joint Select Committee, or amendment thereto, may be taken in closed session.
But again, permitting the meetings to be shut doesn’t override the House and Senate Rules that dictate the conditions by which that is permissible, especially since the Joint Committee rules explicitly invoke those particular sections. As far as we can tell, the Super Committee’s rules dictate that their official meetings will be public, and have no unusual provision allowing them to close them capriciously.
In other good news, the Super Committee will be getting a website, posting its amendments and votes online, and generally providing video and audio coverage of their proceedings. (Today’s hearing was covered by C-SPAN, and also streamed live by Rep. Camp.)