WASHINGTON, D.C. — A plea from C-SPAN to televise negotiations that will merge the House and Senate health care bills seems likely to fall on deaf ears, House Democratic leaders signaled today, setting off a fresh wave of objection from Rep. Michele Bachmann and other Republicans who say the final measure shouldn’t be crafted behind closed doors.
C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb requested in a letter last week to House and Senate leaders that “all important meetings, including any conference committee meetings” be opened to electronic media coverage.
“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,” Lamb wrote.
House and Senate leaders have signaled that they’ll likely bypass conference negotiations — and the procedural, filibusterable votes that go along with them — in favor of a process informally called “ping pong,” which is essentially sending legislation back and forth between chambers until the same legislation passes both sides. The goal is to have a bill for President Obama to sign by his first State of the Union address, which is likely to come later this month or in early February.
Asked about the letter in a press conference today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters that “there has never been a more open process for any legislation that any one has gone through here.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took much the same line.
“Just as our health reform bill will create a more open health insurance system — transparency that will save lives and money and stop insurance company abuses — we are committed to transparency in the legislative process,” Reid spokesman Jim Manley said in a statement. “We will continue to ensure that the Congress and the public will have ample opportunity to see and evaluate health insurance reform legislation before it moves to final passage.”
In a short editorial titled “So Much for Transparency” posted to conservative website Townhall.com, Bachmann slammed Democrats for their efforts to “create a final bill out of the public eye and behind closed doors.”
“It appears the Democrats wish to do this outside of public scrutiny to speed up the process in hopes of getting it done and signed into law before the President makes his State of the Union speech,” Bachmann wrote.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., and two other House Republicans joined that call in a letter to Pelosi asking that Republicans be included in the final health care reform negotiations, and that the sessions be televised. The three area all ranking members on committees that have jurisdiction on some aspect of health care reform.
Other Bachmann colleagues echoed her statement.
“As House Republican Leader, I can confidently state that all House Republicans strongly endorse your proposal and stand ready to work with you to make it a reality,” House Minority Leader John Boehner wrote to Lamb in a response obtained by POLITICO.
“C-SPAN’s role in fostering government transparency is so significant that on several occasions during the last presidential campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama pledged that health care reform negotiations would be broadcast on C-SPAN so the ‘American people will know what’s going on.'”
That pledge Republicans are referring to is actually a series of promises that candidate Obama repeatedly made in 2008 to broadcast key health care reform negotiations — from start to finish — on C-SPAN. Obama cited the failure to do so as one of the reasons that President Bill Clinton’s health care reform efforts failed.
PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning political fact checker run by the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, has labeled his pledge as “Promise Broken.”
“Obama promised — repeatedly — an end to closed-door negotiations and complete openness for the health care talks,” PolitiFact reporter Angie Drobnic Holan wrote. “But he hasn’t delivered. Instead of open talks of C-SPAN, we’ve gotten more of the same — talks behind closed doors at the White House and Congress. We might revisit this promise if there’s a dramatic change, but we see nothing to indicate anything has changed. We rate this Promise Broken.”
That was published July 10, 2009. There have been no such revisions yet.