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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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  • Sparhawk2k 01/05/2010 9:24am

    I really do like the idea of more transparency. But I do wonder how televising these sorts of meetings would change the nature of the meetings. If these are televised will they then feel the need to have other even less formal meetings to decide more about what’s going to happen in these ones?

  • Comm_reply
    Manstein16 01/05/2010 9:40am

    This is a good point. Our Congressional leaders have no desire for the public to witness the type of sausage-making and horse-trading that will be necessary if the two bills are to be reconciled. As much as I love the idea of increased transparency, I’ve already witnessed firsthand the carefully-staged Broadway productions that hearings currently are (you’re flown out to D.C., plopped in a chair for an hour, and expected to answer rhetorical questions that are asked simply for purposes of grandstanding). I suspect that televising these informal meetings as well would simply result in the important decisions being made in the smoke-filled backrooms of lore.

  • Clif9 01/05/2010 10:58am

    Is totally open politics possible? Is it any different than diplomacy? Sometimes there are trades made that constituents would never tolerate, not venal or dirty deals but simply acts of concession by a party to a dispute. A politician can be responsible and at the same time act in a way that constituents might not like. A possible result of complete openness might be paralysis.

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