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160,000 Hours of C-SPAN

March 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

This is a dream come true!:

Researchers, political satirists and partisan mudslingers, take note: C-Span has uploaded virtually every minute of its video archives to the Internet.

The archives, at, cover 23 years of history and five presidential administrations and are sure to provide new fodder for pundits and politicians alike. The network will formally announce the completion of the C-Span Video Library on Wednesday.

C-Span’s new video site can be found here.

My first reaction to learning about this on Twitter was to start digging for something historical that is relevant to what’s happening this week. I began searching the archives for useful, contextualizing clips — specifically, I was looking for older videos related to what’s happening right now with health care reform. Sure enough, you can find all kinds of video about past uses of “budget reconciliation” via the site’s helpful use of tags.

Here’s an example of a quick find — current Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Kent Conrad [D, ND] giving a press conference after passage of the Republicans’ 2005 budget reconciliation bill and talking about provisions he had stripped under the Byrd Rule; specifically a provision that would have required hospitals to deny care to emergency room patients that do not have enough income to pay:

Notably, Conrad says that he could have called the Republicans out on “more than a dozen” violations of the Byrd Rule, but he only chose to call them out on four. His reason? Because “otherwise, [the Senate] would have been voting all day on budget point of orders.”

As you can see, the budget reconciliation process hasn’t always been controversial, and the minority party hasn’t always used every opportunity available to them to obstruct the majority party’s work.

Anyways, I didn’t mean to write about health care. I wanted to explain how awesome this new C-Span website it. Go check it out. Many clips include transcripts captured form closed captioning, most of the videos include embed code, and they are organized in all kinds of helpful ways, including category, people, tags, dates and more. Unfortunately, searches by bill name and number don’t turn up the best results. Metavid is much more useful in that respect.

One of the coolest things about the site is that it appears to be very timely. For example, the complete video of the House Budget Committee’s mark-up of the budget reconciliation shell bill, which just ended less than 3 hours ago, has already been uploaded and is available for viewing and sharing, with a full searchable trascript.

That kind of timeliness, which is essential for creating real openness, is rare for disclosure of government information. This site should serve as a model for the government. If C-SPAN, a non-governmental entity operated as a public service with no advertising and limited funding, can pull this off, Congress and the rest of the federal government should be able to step up their discloure practice, follow the 8 principles of open government data, and make websites that are at least as aweosme as this.

Photo of the C-Span bus by eric.langhorst used under a Creative Commons license.

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