By Doug Heye, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
If there is one institution in Washington whose integrity is unquestioned, it is C-SPAN. The network calls it straight down the middle by not calling it at all, and is treated with the same respect by Democrats, Republicans, and independents that it treats the Democrats, Republicans, and independents who call in every morning. From gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, uninterrupted coverage of important congressional hearings and airing of various political press conferences and seminars, C-SPAN provides an important service to every American voter—bringing your government to you and providing the sunshine open government necessitates.
Unfortunately, the network can cover only those congressional meetings held in the public. Voters hoping to follow the process of the House and Senate working out the differences of their respective healthcare reform bills are left in the dark. C-SPAN will not be covering the House-Senate conference on the legislation because there will not be any such conference. As reported by the Associated Press, Congressional Quarterly, USA Today, the Washington Post, and, not insignificantly, Peter Roff with U.S. News & World Report, House and Senate Democrats will negotiate the legislation in private, far away from the prying eyes of Capitol Hill Republicans and far away from prying cameras.
In a December 30 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader John Boehner, C-SPAN Chairman and CEO Brian Lamb formally requested that congressional leaders open up the healthcare negotiations to the media.
"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," Lamb wrote. "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."
That Democrats want to work on the bill in secret is no surprise. Poll after poll has shown the legislation to be wildly unpopular with voters and we all saw what happened when everyday Americans had the opportunity to voice their opinion to their elected officials during the August recess—bedlam.
"No one knows what goes on behind closed doors," country singer Charlie Rich reminded us in his 1973 hit song.
So far, that's where things stand with the final negotiations of the healthcare legislation, just as it had for much of the issue's legislative journey. Even while Reid declared in November that transparency is "one of the guiding principles of health insurance reform," Democrats sought to work out the final details of the bill in secret and rush a new bill through before the American people know what hit them.
Republicans, all too familiar to being locked out by Democrats, aren't holding their breath—and Lamb's letter has yet to receive a reply. C-SPAN's open call for full transparency is a highly unusual move for a media organization that steadfastly refuses to take sides, demonstrating how far Democrats have gone in cloaking the healthcare bill with more secrecy than even the Washington Wizards locker room.
It also boxes the Democrats in—it will be awfully hard for any Democrat to accuse C-SPAN of being the research arm of the Republican Party.