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C-SPAN Asks to Televise Health Care Negotiations

January 5, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

President Obama has repeatedly promised to televise health care negotiations on C-SPAN so that the public can watch along. Now, C-CPAN’s CEO, Brian Lamb, is asking Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to help Obama keep his promise.

“As your respective chambers work to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate health care bills, C-SPAN requests that you open all important negotiations, including any conference committee meetings, to electronic media coverage,” Lamb wrote in a letter last week to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8], House Minority Leader John Boehner [R, OH-8], Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [R, KY]. “The C-SPAN networks will commit the necessary resources to covering all of these sessions LIVE and in their entirety.”

Read the full letter at Glenn Thrush’s blog.

As we learned yesterday, there probably isn’t going to be a formal conference committee for reconciling the Senate and House bills. In order to avoid more obstructionism by Senate Republicans, the Democrats have decided to keep Republicans out of the negotiating process and just hold informal meetings between key Democrats, like the ones happening today, to work out a balance between the Senate and House bills that they think can secure enough Democratic support to pass in both chambers.

C-SPAN would normally provide coverage of formal conference committee meetings as is required under the standing rules of the House and Senate. But informal talks like the ones the Democrats are planning to use for reconciling the health care bill aren’t required to be televised under the rules. Lamb is asking the Democrats to go beyond what they are required to do and voluntarily “allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American.”

It’s worth noting that even when there are formal conference committee meetings that are televised, there are also informal intra-party meetings, like the ones happening today, that are not televised. Those non-public meetings are the ones where the big decisions are really made. The public conference committee meetings are basically used to formalize what was already decided on in the private intra-party meetings. Still, according to Obama’s repeated promises, the informal talks where all the decision making happens would be put on television, whether or not there was also a conference committee.

The infrastructure for televising the informal talks might not be in place, but Lamb is clear that, if given the opportunity to televise the talks, he will be able to make it happen. “We are most willing to employ the latest digital technology to make the cameras, lights and microphones as unobtrusive as possible,” he wrote in the letter.

So far, the congressional leaders haven’t responded to the letter and they are going ahead with the untelevised negotiations. We’ll be sure to update if things change.

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