YouTube Accord Eludes House

Posted September 25, 2008 at 6:57pm

Less than a week after the Senate passed its own regulations for using YouTube videos, the House Administration Committee tried to do the same — and ended up with an emotionally charged hearing and a breakdown in negotiations.

The issue itself is almost mundane: House rules prohibit Members from using outside Web sites such as YouTube, but many openly violate the rules and post such videos on their official Web sites.

Both House Democrats and Republicans agree the rules need to be updated. But formulating them and negotiating the language has already taken more than a year.

Staffers had hoped to piggy-back on the Senate’s resolution and agree on language before Thursday’s business meeting, but they came up short.

At one point, Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.), who heads the franking commission, accused Republicans of twisting the issue and misrepresenting the commission’s proposal.

“Yesterday it was OK. Today it’s not. Make up your mind,” he yelled. “Honestly, if you want to make a deal, pick up the phone or find me on the floor. This is not the cooperative way to do it.”

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee voted on Sept. 19 to allow Senators to use third-party sites like YouTube, as long as the normal franking rules applied: no product endorsement, no partisan material and no unrelated personal information.

In the House, the disagreement seems to stem from how Members interpret what the Senate did.

Democrats think the Senate regulation follows their plan to allow Members to post only on Web sites approved by the committee and scrubbed of all advertisements. But Republicans read the language as exactly what they’ve been asking for — a change to the rules that allows Members to immediately use YouTube and other sites, without waiting for a pre-approved list.

Rules and Administration spokesman Howard Gantman said Thursday that the Senate regulation puts the burden on the Member to follow rules, such as not using Senate resources for political purposes.

He made a distinction between a Member linking to a Facebook page that includes campaign information — a violation — and a YouTube page that has a computer-generated “related videos” section.

On Thursday, House Administration ranking member Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) offered a resolution to adopt the Senate’s language on the issue, sidestepping the backroom negotiation process and angering Democrats.

“I’m concerned that Members of the House are already using this, and I believe that both sides agree that Members of the House need some guidance from us,” Ehlers said. “It seems that the Senate has come up with a good resolution.”

The surprise move seemed to anger both Capuano and Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.), who told Ehlers he wasn’t following parliamentary procedure.

“Your resolution would be out of order,” he said, adding that he didn’t want to be “heavy-handed.”

“I’m not going to rule on it and I’m not going to accept it,” he said.

Brady did allow discussion on the matter, and Capuano launched into a fuming speech on how Republicans have thwarted negotiations on a relatively minor issue.

He also hinted at the objections from Republicans outside the committee on the Democrats’ proposal, which Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) once called an “attack on free speech.”

Those accusations were “all I heard for two months — not from anyone on this committee but from your colleagues — and I never once heard you stand up and say it was a misrepresentation,” he said, later telling fellow franking commission member Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), “If one of my colleagues misinterpreted something you said, I’d have them in a headlock.”

The attempted negotiations and the subsequent fiery meeting seem to have lessened the prospects for any action during this session. In a statement released after Thursday’s meeting, Capuano said the meeting “made it clear to me that further review is required.”

“[W]e do not agree on interpretation of that language,” the statement read. “Apparently, Republican Members of the Commission believe there should be no restrictions whatsoever on where a Member can post official web video. Democratic Members believe that official web video should appear on sites free from commercial or political advertising.”