C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb sent a letter to congressional leaders last week, asking that they "open all important negotiations, including any conference committee meetings, to electronic media coverage."
"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 said in the letter, which was sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "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."
As Lamb notes, "literall hundreds of hours" of committee hearings, debate and meetings have been broadcast on C-SPAN through the health care debate, allowing journalists, bloggers, watchdog groups and citizens to follow the process. Other significant parts of the health care debate, however, have remained behind closed doors, such as Mr. Obama's negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry which resulted in a deal committing the industry to a specific contribution to reform.
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Now that Democrats have passed a health care bill in both the House and the Senate, they will need to reconcile the two bills. That process could take place through the formal "conference committee" process, or it could happen informally. Either way, there are sure to be important negotiations and meetings taking place among Democratic leaders that remain private.
Lamb said the C-SPAN networks are willing to commit all of the resources necessary to comprehensively cover the upcoming conference committee sessions live.
"We are most willing to employ the latest digital technology to make the cameras, lights and microphones as unobtrusive as possible," he added.
When asked last week about the level of transparency so far in the health care debate, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the legislative process has played out clearly in the hearings and debates that have been aired on C-SPAN.
"I think, quite frankly, people have a pretty good sense of who is battling on behalf of thousands of lobbyists that are trying to protect drugs profits and insurance profits, and who's fighting on behalf of middle-class Americans," he said.
Pressed on the issue again today, Gibbs said he has not seen the C-SPAN letter but that he doesn't think "the American people have lacked for information on what's in these bills," or "the political and policy arguments around people's position."