House majority leader Paul "Skip" Stam on Tuesday outlined rules about how the GOP caucus' members-only policy committees will operate from now on.
Stam, an Apex Republican, is also giving them a new name: Issue education groups.
Stam did not specifically say that the meetings will be open to the public, but he has signaled to others in the ruling Republican majority that they should be more relaxed about who gets in.
Democrats have said the policy meetings should be conducted in the open.
So has former House Speaker Harold Brubaker, a high-ranking Republican. A constituent wrote Brubaker on Tuesday and asked that he help ensure the Republican leadership brings an end to "holding meetings with lobbyist groups behind closed doors."
Brubaker shot back a six-word response: "THANKS - THAT'S WHAT I TOLD EM - HJB"
Stam's office said Wednesday that "the presiding chair of [each] meeting shall have the discretion to determine the attendees or participants of the meeting and information concerning time, place and subject matter of the meeting. Only members may inquire of the chair or any information presenter."
The News & Observer was excluded from a meeting last week in which video gambling lobbyists, opponents of gambling, constituents of a lawmaker, staffers and others remained inside the room. The GOP has held other such sessions, including one with health care special interests.
On Wednesday, Stam outlined the meetings' rules and touched on avoiding potential conflicts of interest. The video gambling meeting had been run by Rep. Mike C. Stone of Sanford, who owns a grocery that had video gambling machines in it. Democrats have requested an ethics probe. Republicans have dismissed that request as partisan positioning.
Stam said meetings of the issue groups will also:
Be informal, occasional and educational in nature.
Not allow for any official public action to be voted upon, deliberated or otherwise taken during the meeting.
Not allow for any proposed legislation to be brought to or discussed during the meeting.
Keep from participating "any legislator who feels, in his or her subjective opinion, that the legislator's independent judgment would be compromised by a direct and personal interest in the matter." The legislator may continue to listen and observe the meeting to receive information.
Price fights NIH cuts
Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price is pushing hard against a Republican plan to slash $1.3 billion from National Institutes for Health funding that Price sees as critical to his congressional district.
House Republicans' spending plan for the rest of this fiscal year, known as a continuing resolution, is a stopgap measure that would keep the federal government operating until Sept. 30, because Congress wasn't able to pass appropriations bills for fiscal year 2011. Republicans are trying to cut $100 billion in discretionary spending; a final House vote is expected as soon as today.
The National Institutes for Health provided about $1 billion in funding to North Carolina last year.
Of that, about $799 million went to Price's 4th Congressional District, which includes UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. Central University, Duke University and part of N.C. State University.
Private enterprises, including the nonprofit Research Triangle Institute, also received millions.
"We didn't get where we are in the Research Triangle by being ideologues, by having these rigid views about government," Price said Wednesday in an interview. "We don't want government to dominate our lives, but we don't want to treat government as the enemy."
At NCSU, federal research affairs director Mark Peterson sent an e-mail message to faculty urging them to contact their House members about a variety of proposed research funding cuts -- more than $5 billion in the areas of energy, agriculture, health and education.
The cuts also would affect the federal Pell Grant program, which provides grants to the nation's most impoverished college students.
"If you feel these cuts will harm your research opportunities, you are encouraged to reach out to the offices of our NC Delegation and ask them to support science research and student financial aid," Peterson wrote, according to a copy of the message posted at NCSU's Graduate Student Association.
The continuing resolution might have a tough time passing the Democratic-controlled Senate; President Barack Obama this week vowed to veto the bill in its current form.
Compiled by staff writers J. Andrew Curliss and Barbara Barrett
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