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When is a Meeting not a Meeting?

When the Supercommittee says so, apparently.  According to this Politico article, the Supercommittee has been “supersecret,” holding a six and half hour closed session in the Capitol yesterday.

But wait, the Supercommittee rules require that its “meetings” be open, unless the Supercommittee votes in open session to close them. Wasn’t this a meeting? Senator Kerry seems to think so. Asked for comment on what occurred, he would say only that it was a “good meeting, we had a good meeting, a good meeting.” Not terribly informative, but the one thing that seems clear is that it was a meeting.

Maybe not. According to a colloquy between co-chairs Jeb Hensarling and Patty Murray at the organizational meeting, the term “meeting” in the Supercommittee rules refers to a “meeting for the transaction of business” as provided for by House and Senate rules. This means that sessions involving “markups of legislation and reports” are covered by the open meeting rule, but “less formal caucuses” or “working sessions” are not.

Committee markups refer to “sessions where committee members consider changes in the text of the measure or matter before them” or “determine whether a measure pending before a committee should be amended in any substantive way.” Since there are no legislative measures pending before the Supercommittee, it cannot yet conduct a markup. Indeed, even once legislative language has been drafted, it is not clear that consideration of accepting or changing such language would constitute a markup, since there is no measure formally pending before the Supercommittee.

In short, as the Supercommittee interprets its rules, all of its sessions that do not involve voting on specific legislative language appear to be beyond the scope of its open meeting rules. And it is not clear that even consideration of specific language would need to take place in open session, particularly if there is no formal vote. According to the Supercommittee’s interpretation, all of its deliberations could take place behind closed doors, with only the final vote on its report and proposed legislative language being public.



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