Bob Dornan Live, on 'Free' Taxpayer TV
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"I have had a few people call [my office] saying tell the congressman to shut up. This will probably trigger a few more," Dornan said during the same speech. "Don't waste your time."Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, Dornan does not show any willingness to yield on special orders. Not only is it a great tool for minority members to attack the majority, he says, but it's also a function of free speech that transcends dollars. "Free speech has always cost a lot of money," he argues, "It has also cost blood."
Soon after cameras were installed in Congress in 1981, for example, a mop-topped young congressman from Georgia named Newt Gingrich began using special orders to attack the ethics of House Democrats.
In a famous attempt to frustrate Mr. Gingrich, former Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill ordered C-Span's cameras to pan the chamber during special orders to show viewers it was empty. Last year, the camera rule was repealed, in part, because it led some viewers to conclude that members of Congress never show up for work.
Although nobody knows how many people tune in to special orders, it is available, via C-Span, in 69 million homes. Robin Scullin, a C-Span spokeswoman, says viewer reaction is mixed.
Last month, when Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D) used special-orders time to discuss congressional redistricting, Ms. Scullin says, calls and letters from Ms. Mckinney's district poured in, carrying messages like "hooray for C-Span."
But just as often, she adds, viewers take umbrage. "Do you have to show these special orders?" asked one recent caller. "It's so infuriating. Right now Dornan, [Indiana Rep.] Dan Burton, and some others are going on and on, lying about President Clinton, and there is no one there to challenge them."
Indeed, Charles Cook, a political analyst, warns that special orders produces too much "unfiltered information." Often, he notes, groups of like-minded members, particularly GOP freshmen, engage in hour-long dialogues that, to the uninitiated, look like genuine floor debates. Only rarely do members from the opposing party offer a rebuttal.
Nevertheless, Rivers's bill faces some tough hurdles. Some Republicans say it's a political ploy designed to limit the effects of a medium they have mastered. In addition, lawmakers from Western states argue that the bill discriminates against them, because they rely on special orders to communicate with their distant constituents.
Rivers insists her bill is not partisan, noting that one of her co-sponsors, Oregon Rep. Jim Bunn, is a Republican. Neither is her bill unprecedented, she says. In the last Congress, Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor (D) proposed moving special orders to a smaller room.
Whatever happens, Rivers can count on the unequivocal support of one group: Capitol staff. During special orders, two stenographers, three clerks, several pages, about a dozen police, four engineers, and a TV camera operator must stand by. Most do not qualify for overtime.
"Strictly off the record," jokes one Capitol employee, "Sometimes I wish I had a gag."