Brian Lamb, CEO of C-SPAN, has sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to utilize his network to televise the remaining health care reform negotiations as differences between the House and Senate bills are worked out. Republican leadership immediately stood behind C-SPAN’s calls for transparency, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi scoffed at the notion, saying “there has never been a more open process.” Some of the text of Lamb’s letter:
“President Obama, Senate and House leaders, many of your rank-and-file members, and the nation’s editorial pages have all talked about the value of transparent discussions on reforming the nation’s health care system … Now that the process moves to the critical stage of reconciliation between the chambers, we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American.”
Congressional Democrats, however, seem determined to forego the usual conference committee and utilize informal negotiations to hammer out a compromise health care bill. Going this “ping-pong” route allows the Democrats to skip several procedural hurdles, leading to a more efficacious passage of the bill without those pesky Republicans obstructing things.
It’s easy to shrug off C-SPAN’s request. “Why should we televise anything? It’s all being covered in the news anyway.” It’s similarly easy to shrug off the bypassing of conference committee. “It’s going to be much easier this way, and besides, those Republicans just want to vote no anyway, so why should be care about them?”
The problem is that we must also consider the votes in the middle of the night and the fact that both House and Senate versions were crafted behind closed doors – indeed, the only Senate bill to come out of a committee, the Baucus bill, existed only in memorandum form and was scrapped as soon as it was voted out of committee. At this point, it’s natural to get a little worried about the lack of transparency of a historically large bill that will overhaul the entire nation’s health insurance.
Democrats and liberals may be fine with the fact that one party is essentially negotiating with itself to effect such massive change, taking comfort in the thought that the GOP had a chance to come to the table. Never mind,of course, that Republican amendments were largely voted down, that the Democrat “outreach” has been largely nonexistent since the unilateral ram-through of the stimulus package, and that, again, the House and Senate bills were both crafted behind closed doors.
“Most open process ever,” Speaker Pelosi? Actually, I’m fairly sure that televising the final negotiations would be more open than, you know, not. What would be the harm of the American people seeing democracy in action? The answer is the same reason such a great bill needed buyoffs of Senators like Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu to vote for it – it’s fundamentally a bad bill, and the less exposure it gets, the less damage is done to the reputation of the Democrats. Remember, the plan was to pass this monster back in July – we’re frankly lucky Congress hasn’t been able to shove this down the pipe thus far.
Be careful what you wish for, Democrats. Costly though it may be both in dollars and votes, you will most likely have your legislative victory, which is important not on behalf of the people you claim you’ll help, but because your team won. In the process, you have redefined acceptable behavior for a majority party and have alienated vast numbers of moderates and independents. The political tides will turn, and there will be no room for squealing the next time you find yourself in the minority. America deserves a broader consensus and a more open and deliberative process than what we have witnessed thus far. Politics as usual? Probably – and that’s the problem.